On 26 March 2013 the House of Lords will consider the amendments to the Justice and Security Bill made by the House of Commons. We have reported on this blog on the Bill at various points in its progress, including on the Special Advocates’ views on the proposals.
Here, now, is the latest contribution: a Briefing Note in relation to two key amendments which will be considered next week (covering letter here). First, whether closed material procedures should only be used as a last resort, if a fair trial cannot otherwise be achieved. And second, whether the interests of open justice should be weighed in the balance by a Court in considering whether to order a closed procedure.
1 Crown Office Row’s Robert Wastell is acting for the Treasury in this case – he has had no part in writing this post.
Extraordinary developments in the Supreme Court today as the court, for the first time in its history, conducted a secret hearing during which one of the parties, an Iranian Bank, was not allowed to take part. Full background to the case, Bank Mellat (Appellant) v HM Treasury (Respondent) is here.
If I could just repeat that for effect: the Government, which is being sued, gets to stay in court whilst the person doing the suing – and their lawyers – have to leave. The judges then hear security sensitive evidence which is potentially central to the case. Whilst one side is absent. No wonder Lord Neuberger, who as Master of the Rolls robustly blocked an attempt to introduce closed material procedures in civil trials via the back door (see his judgment in Al Rawi e.g. at para 30), sounds so pained in his statement. Curiously, this final hard-hitting paragraph was sent by the Court to its public email list but was left off the statement published on the Court’s website:
The Constitutional and Administrative Bar Association (ALBA) hosted an invigorating debate on Tuesday night, pitting Minister without Portfolio Ken Clarke against Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, over the question of Closed Material Procedures (CMPs) in civil claims, as proposed in the Justice and Security Bill.
The Bill is currently going through the parliamentary process, having reached the report stage in the House of Commons on 4 March 2013. Of particular note to those with an interest in human rights are the proposals to introduce CMPs into civil damages actions, where allegations such as complicity in torture by the UK intelligence agencies are made.
While the press (and the rest of us) were preoccupied by the debate on equal marriage and the public dissection of the Huhne marriage, the Justice and Security Bill completed its next stage of passage through the Parliamentary process. Largely unwatched, a slim majority of Conservative members supported by Ian Paisley Jr., reversed each change made to the Bill by the House of Lords restoring the Government’s original vision: a brave new world where secret pleadings, hearings and judgments become the norm when a Minister claims national security may be harmed in civil litigation.
The Bill will return to the Commons for its crucial final stages on Monday. In anticipation of the debate, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has published a third damning critique of the Government’s proposals. The cross-party Committee was unimpressed by the Government rewrite of the Lords amendments. Most of Westminster was busy in Eastleigh and few political commentators flinched.
The Justice and Security Bill, which will allow secret ‘closed material’ hearings to take place in civil trials, has been quietly (almost too quietly) making its way through Parliament. The Bill will allow judges to exclude lawyers, press, the public and even litigants in their own cases from civil hearings which involve national security.
Kafkaesque is a term used in almost every critical article about law ever written. But I have read The Trial (I really have!), and the effect of these proposals is not too far from that.
The key development is that many of the amendments forced through in the House of Lords under the leadership of Lord Pannick have been reversed by the Government. We have a full update coming later on the progress of the Bill, but I thought that in the mean time I would highlight a few up to date resources and developments:
The government’s Justice and Security Bill has this week entered a new phase of debate in the House of Commons as it is considered in detail by a 19-member Public Bill Committee over the next month. The critics of this Bill – and there are many – argue that it will make “secret justice” a standard part of our legal process. The latest set of amendments proposed by the government were revealed yesterday and within them lies a crucial and unjustifiable secrecy provision. The significance of the amendments becomes apparent when one looks at how the Bill has progressed so far.
In its original form the Bill said that a court “must” use closed material proceedings if there would be a disclosure of information that would harm national security interests. It would not matter how small the damage, it would not matter whether there were other public interests in disclosure of the material, and the court had no discretion.
AKJ & Ors v Commissioner of Police for the Metroplis & Ors  EWHC 32 (QB) – Read judgment
The High Court has ruled that the Investigatory Powers Tribunal was the exclusive jurisdiction for Human Rights Act claims against the police as a result of the activities of undercover police officers, authorised as Covert Human Intelligence Sources, where such conduct was not a breach of a fundamental right. The Tribunal did not have jurisdiction to determine proceedings brought by Claimants at common law.
The decision of AKJ and related litigation is the latest instalment of the fallout from the activities of undercover police officer or Covert Human Intelligence Source (CHIS) Mark Kennedy and another police officer. Kennedy infiltrated environmental protest groups including those that resulted in convictions following events at Ratcliffe on Soar power station. The convictions were later quashed following revelations about Kennedy’s activities which included allegations he had engaged in sexual relationships with a number of female protestors and other prosecutorial impropriety: R v Barkshire  EWCA Crim 1885 (UKHRB post). A number of those affected by Kennedy’s actions subsequently brought claims in tort (for example alleging deception) and under the Human Rights Act 1998.
This coming Wednesday sees the end of the first stage of the Justice and Security Bill’s passage into law. The Bill which would introduce Closed Material Procedures (CMP) – where one side of a case is excluded with his legal team and represented by a security cleared special advocate in cases involving national security – has become widely known as the Secret Courts Bill. Its progress has been closely scrutinised in this blog over the past six months.
As it completes Third Reading and passes to the House of Commons, we reflect on last week’s Lords amendments to the Bill. While there are still issues ripe for discussion at Third Reading, it is broadly accepted that the key Lords votes have passed.
For justice to be seen to be done, judgments given in open court must be accessible in two senses. They must be clearly written so that a reasonably well informed member of the public can understand what is being decided. But they must also be available to the public, and in this sense their accessibility depends on their being reported.
Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, so stated in the first BAILII annual lecture, hosted by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP at their premises in Fleet Street last night. The full speech can be read here.
Tomorrow, Liberal Democrats will debate the Justice and Security Bill and will vote on saying no to the Government’s controversial secret courts proposals. Played in the press as a good opportunity to put clear blue water between the coalition partners, the motion will give a party members a chance to speak out on a Bill which many see as an anathema to the traditional liberal commitment to open, fair and equal access to justice.
The Bill would – for the first time – introduce the controversial “closed material procedure” (CMP) into our ordinary civil justice system. In CMP, one party to proceedings and their legal representatives are excluded from a hearing and from seeing any evidence, argument or judgment associated with closed material, leaving Special Advocates (security vetted lawyers) who they cannot discuss the case with to represent their interests as best as possible. These exceptional procedures have been criticised by both commentators and courts since their inception as a flawed and unfair mechanism which endangers the rule of law and open justice (JUSTICE and others have dissected the Bill on this blog and elsewhere, highlighting its serious long-term political and legal implications).
Last night saw the latest round of Lords debate on the Justice and Security Bill. It should be required reading for the Secretary of State. Peers from all benches challenged the Government’s case for the breadth of reform proposed in the Bill. A number of amendments have been tabled jointly in the names of members of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Lords Constitution Committee, both Committees having already castigated the Government’s proposals as potentially harmful to the common law principles of open, adversarial and equal justice.
JUSTICE hosted Ken Clarke, QC MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice in conversation earlier this week. One of the topics on the table was the Justice and Security Bill. During the evening – helpfully tweeted by the Human Rights Blog’s own Adam Wagner and others (you can read the time line of tweets here) – Ken Clarke stressed his view that the opposition to the Justice and Security Bill posed by JUSTICE together with most other human rights organisations and the Special Advocates is misguided.
Omar & Ors, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs  EWHC 1737 (Admin) (26 June 2012) – read judgment
The Divisional Court has ruled that common law principles cannot be used to obtain evidence from the Foreign Secretary for use in a foreign court.
Angus McCullough QC of 1 Crown Office Row appeared as a special advocate in the closed proceedings in this case. He is not the author of this post.
“Norwich Pharmacal” orders are sometimes granted to obtain information from third parties to help the court establish whether unlawful conduct has taken place. A court can in such a case compel the third party to assist the person suffering damage by giving them that information. In the cases of Binyan Mohamad and Shakar Aamer the courts extended the application of these orders to foreign cases. Now it appears that both may have been wrongly decided.
The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation has released his report into the operation of terrorism law in 2011. The press release is here.
The report puts the case for continuing the process already begun by the Coalition Government of rolling back some of the laws instituted in the decade following 9/11 to address the threat of terrorism. The justification for this is that the threat has reduced in size. Notably, he argues that it may be possible to grant certain terrorist suspects (“the peripheral players”) bail when arrested. David Anderson QC said of his report:
The threat from both al-Qaida related and Northern Ireland related terrorism is a real one. To meet it, we have some of the most extensive and effective counter-terrorism laws in the world. All the more need to keep them under review so that they impinge no further than is necessary on individual liberty.
XX v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 742 – Read judgment
The Court of Appeal recently issued its judgment in XX v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 742, an appeal from a decision of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (“SIAC”) upholding the Secretary of State’s decision to deport an Ethiopian national on grounds of national security.
XX, who had indefinite leave to remain, had been assessed to have attended terrorist training camps and to have regularly associated with terrorists in the UK. SIAC was satisfied on the facts that XX posed a threat to the national security of the UK and determined that the deportation would not breach Articles 3, 5 and 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. XX appealed on the ground that in finding no incompatibility with the Convention, SIAC had erred in law.
The real “democratic deficit” in the courts is about limited public access not “unelected judges“, Adam Wagner argued on the UK Human Rights Blog at the weekend, challenging a recent political and media narrative.
In his view, the internet age necessitates “a completely new understanding of the old adage ‘Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done‘”.
Wagner is one of 14 authors who contributed to a new working publication entitled ‘Justice Wide Open’, produced by the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism (CLJJ), City University London, following an event on February 29 2012. The individual chapters can be accessed electronically.