High Court orders disclosure of closed judgment in Afghanistan interrogation case

Justice and SecurityR (on the application of Maya Evans) v Secretary of State for Defence, with Associated Press intervening [2013] EWHC 3068 (Admin) – read judgment

In  “Evans (No. 1)”, a 2010 case concerning the transfer of suspected insurgents for questioning in certain military centres in Afghanistan, the High Court had ruled, partly in an open judgment, partly in closed proceedings, that UK transfers to NDS Kandahar and NDS Lashkar Gah could proceed without risk of ill treatment (which is contrary to UK policy), but that it would be a breach of the policy and therefore unlawful for transfers to be made to NDS Kabul. It was subsequently discovered that there had not been jurisdiction to follow a closed procedure in that case, but what was done could not be undone, so the confidentiality agreements and the closed judgment remained in force. Continue reading

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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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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Secret Courts remixed: any better than the original? – Angela Patrick

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.

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Lords “Reform”: The Justice and Security Bill – Angela Patrick

Lord Pannick

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.

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Government has still not made case for “inherently unfair” secret trials, say Special Advocates

Angus McCullough QC and Jeremy Johnson QC at the JCHR

The overwhelming majority of Special Advocates have responded to the Justice and Security Bill by stating that the case has still not been made by the Government for the introduction of closed material procedures  in other types of civil litigation. The full response is available here (PDF).

Fifty Special Advocates have signed the response. This represents an overwhelming consensus of those with substantial experience of the current system of secret hearings.

They accept that the new restriction to national security cases is an improvement, but retain the view expressed in their initial response to the Green Paper consultation, that:

CMPs are inherently unfair and contrary to the common law tradition; that the Government would have to show the most compelling reasons to justify their introduction; that no such reasons have been advanced; and that, in our view, none exists.

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Criticisms remain as dust settles on secret trials bill

Updated | In stark contrast to the pageantry surrounding the Royal Jubilee, here is a somewhat sombre update on the Justice and Security Bill, which was published on 28 May 2012 and is currently receiving its second reading in the House of Lords. The Bill aims to introduce Close Material Procedures, that is secret hearings, into civil trials.

Three key documents were published shortly after the Bill, presenting the Government’s case in response to the forceful criticism which the initial proposals generated. First is the Government’s response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ scathing report on the proposals. Secondly, the Government’s response to the 90 submissions received in response to the Justice and Security Green Paper consultation. Thirdly, a summary of European Convention on Human Rights issues relating to the Bill, also published by the Government.

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Justice and Security Bill: The Government is not for turning – Angela Patrick

Publishing the Justice and Security Bill this morning, the Secretary of State for Justice said “I have used the last few months to listen to the concerns of … civil liberties campaigners with whom I usually agree.”

There are many people who today would sorely like to agree that Ken has listened and has taken their concerns on board.  Unfortunately, the Government’s analysis remains fundamentally flawed.  The Green Paper was clearly a “big ask”.  There have undoubtedly been significant changes made from the proposals in the Green Paper.  However, the secret justice proposals in the Justice and Security Bill remain fundamentally unfair, unnecessary and unjustified.

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Key Justice and Security Bill resources

The Justice and Security Bill, which proposes to introduce secret ‘Closed Material Procedure’ (CMP) hearings into civil trials, has been published. Here are some useful resources for picking your way through the controversy:

  • The Ministry of Justice’s page on the Bill, including some ‘myth-busting’ (including ‘This is undermining the centuries old legal tradition’) is here.
  • 84 responses to the Green Paper which led to this bill can be found here, and the Government’s response of 29 May is here.
  • The Joint Committee on Human Rights’ highly critical report on the proposals is here.
  • You can access all of the UK Human Rights Blog coverage of the secret trials proposals here, including our exclusive on the Special Advocates’ opposition to the proposals, which became the most damaging aspect of the case against the Green Paper.

More to come on the proposals soon…

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