Secret trials – a little transparency, a lot to worry about – Lawrence McNamara

RCJ restricted accessGuardian News and Media Ltd -v- AB CD – Read preliminary judgment

The Court of Appeal has published its decision in Guardian News Media v AB and CD. It is not a judgment, the Court says. Judgments – plural – will be given “in due course.” Still, the 24 paragraph decision contains the order and explanation of the order, and gives an indication of some of the reasons that will follow.

Is this a good decision? It is better than it might have been, but there are still deeply worrying problems.

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Reforming judicial review: cutting pointless delay or preventing legitimate challenge? – Angela Patrick

RCJ restricted accessAs the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill has its Second Reading in the House of Commons today (Monday 24 February), Angela Patrick, Director of Human Rights at JUSTICE considers the Government’s proposals for the future of judicial review.

For law students who slept their way through their first latin 101 lessons in ‘ultra vires’, public law and judicial review may have seemed very detached from the realities of everyday life; less relevant to the man on the Clapham Omnibus than the rigours of a good criminal defence or protection from eviction offered by landlord and tenant law.

The Lord Chancellor may be hoping that the public and Parliamentarians are similarly unfocused.

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Reporting restrictions at courts martial: the need for a structured approach – Simon McKay

Royal-Marine-video-012Marines A & Ors v Guardian News and Media & Other Media [2013] EWCA Crim 2367 – read judgment

On 15 September 2011 a patrol of Royal Marine Commandos were involved in an incident, which resulted in one of them, referred to as “Soldier A”, shooting dead an armed but seriously wounded Taliban fighter. Evidence of the shooting emerged later and five members of the patrol were eventually charged with murder. The charges against two of them were later dropped but the three remaining marines were tried for murder before the Court Martial. On 8 November 2013, Soldier A was found guilty of murder.

Quite apart from this extraordinary facts, the trial was unusual for another reason: publication of the identity of each of the defendants was prohibited at the commencement of the proceedings by an assistant Judge Advocate and later the Judge Advocate General (each of the judge’s in the court martial who considered the issue are referred to throughout as “judge”). The Court Martial Appeal Court (essentially the Court of Appeal Criminal Division sitting under a different name) was later invited to review the orders in respect of reporting restrictions. This was linked to the release of video footage and photographs relied on by the prosecution during the case.

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National Security trumps disclosure of Litvinenko secret documents, rules High Court

LitvinenkoSecretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs v Assistant Deputy Coroner for Inner North London [2013] EWHC 3724 (Admin) read judgment

1 Crown Office Row’s Neil Garnham QC and Neil Sheldon acted for the claimant in this case (the Secretary of State for the FCO). They had no involvement in the writing of this post.

The Foreign Secretary successfully appealed against an order for disclosure of secret documents to the Inquest for the death of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko

The Foreign Secretary  in February 2013  issued a certificate of Public Interest Immunity (PII), on the grounds of national security and/or international relations, to prevent the disclosure of a representative sample of Government documents  relating to the 2006 poisoning. In May 2013 the Coroner for the Litvinenko Inquest (Sir Robert Owen) partially rejected that certificate and ordered the disclosure of gists of material relating to some of the key issues surrounding the death(read ruling). In this judgement, a panel of three judges of the High Court unanimously quashed that ruling.

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David Miranda – Remember his name.

David MirandaOur attitude to anti-terror policing is very strange indeed. In many ways, it is like a magician’s trick. We (the public) turn up at the show with the full intention of suspending our disbelief so as to be entertained and entranced. The magician pulls the rabbit out of the hat, or makes the Statue of Liberty disappear. We applaud, we are entranced.

But we know , somewhere in the back of our minds, that we are being fooled.

As with our safety from terror. We are happy because major terrorist attacks in the UK or US are thankfully rare. We are told about countless attacks which have been thwarted. We applaud, we are entranced. But we know, somewhere, that there must be a price.

That price is our civil liberties. More accurately, that price is the civil liberties of others, who we don’t know but whose faces occasionally drift through the public conscience. Binyam Mohamad, who was tortured by the CIA, apparently with collusion by our own Security Services. Shaker Aamer, who has been detained in Guantanamo Bay without charge for almost 12 years. And it is no secret that many anti-terrorism laws are draconian and involve a huge potential for abuse.

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Part 82: The worrying new rules of the Secret Court – Angela Patrick

RCJ restricted accessWhile MPs were dreaming of the imminent long summer break and a possible pay hike, in mid-June the Government produced the draft amendments to the Civil Procedure Rules (“CPR”) necessary to bring Part 2 of the Justice and Security Act 2013 (“JSA”) into force.  Many – including JUSTICE – consider the Act’s introduction of closed material procedures (“CMP”) into civil proceedings unfair, unnecessary and unjustified.  

That one party will present their case unchallenged to the judge in the absence of the other party and their lawyers is inconsistent with the common law tradition of civil justice where proceedings are open, adversarial and equal.   This blog has spent many pages dissecting the constitutional implications of the expansion of CMP in the JSA and its controversial passage through both Houses of Parliament.

Perhaps in a bid to avoid similar controversy, the draft Rules were dropped quietly into the libraries at the Houses of Parliament without fanfare.  Less than two weeks later and without significant change, the Rules were tabled.

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Supreme Court – Measures against Iranian bank unlawful, and the secret hearing ruling

mellatBank Mellat v HM Treasury [2013] UKSC 38 (CMP: see judgment) and 39 (main: see judgment)

Two sets of judgments today from a 9-judge Supreme Court in the Bank Mellat case. The first explains why the Court adopted a secret procedure in the absence of the Bank (i.e. a Closed Material Procedure) but added that the whole palaver in fact added nothing to their knowledge. The second concludes that financial restrictions imposed in 2009 on an Iranian Bank which effectively excluded it from the UK financial market were arbitrary and irrational and were also procedurally unfair. 

The saga started when on 9 October 2009 the Treasury made a direction under Schedule 7 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 requiring all persons operating in the financial sector not to have any commercial dealings with Bank Mellat. The Treasury said that the Bank had connections with Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme. Continue reading

European Court of Justice grapples with secret evidence in UK immigration case – Dr Cian Murphy

topsecretfile ECJZZ v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2013] EUECJ C-300/11 – Read judgment

The European Court of Justice has, in recent days, handed down a judgment that hits several hot buttons: UK immigration law, EU human rights, secret evidence, and suspicions of terrorism. In ZZ the Court has had to rule on the use of secret evidence before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC).

Mr ZZ is an Algerian citizen. However, of crucial importance to his case is that he is also a French citizen, and therefore as an EU citizen, he is entitled to travel to and live the UK. Mr ZZ’s wife is a UK citizen and he was resident in the UK for a over a decade until 2005. In that year he travelled to Algeria but, upon return, was refused admission to the UK on national security grounds.

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Exclusive: Special Advocates’ open letter and briefing note on secret trials

TopSecretFileOn 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.

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Historical first as Supreme Court boots Iranian bank out of secret hearing

TEST CARD1 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:

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Chakrabarti debates Clarke on secret courts bill

ClarkerabartiThe 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.

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Everything you need to know about the secret trials coming to a courtroom near you – Angela Patrick

Justice and SecurityWhile 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.

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Shhh…

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:

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Justice and Security Bill: no balance, no public interest – Lawrence McNamara

Justice and SecurityThe 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.

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Human rights claims against undercover police to be heard in secret – Simon McKay

Mark Kennedy

Mark Kennedy

AKJ & Ors v Commissioner of Police for the Metroplis & Ors [2013] 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 [2011] 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.

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