Assange, secret trials and data retention – The Human Rights Roundup

Welcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your weekly buffet of human rights news. The full list of links can be found here. You can also find our table of human rights cases here and previous roundups here.

The big news this week has been the unexpected turn of events in the Assange extradition case. Almost immediately after the Supreme Court handed down its judgment that he could be extradited, his counsel Dinah Rose QC threw a spanner in the works… The upshot is that it looks like Assange shall be sticking around for at least another couple of weeks. The other significant news of the week is that the Government has published the Justice and Security Bill.

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Justice wide shut

Yesterday I spoke at Justice Wide Open, an excellent conference organised by Judith Townend. I mounted my usual open justice hobby horses (to coin a topical phrase) on how to make the justice system more accessible to the public, including a moan about human rights reporting. Someone told me during the break that according to her research, when newspapers put a positive slant on a human rights story, they tend to use the code word “civil liberties”. And, as if to prove the point, on the very same morning the Daily Mail put its considerable weight behind a crucial but until now sub-public-radar “civil liberties” and open justice issue, the Justice and Security Green Paper.

As readers of this blog will be aware, the Government proposes in the Green Paper to introduce “closed material procedures” into civil proceedings. For an explanation of why this amounts to “a departure from the foundational principle of natural justice“, look no further than the Special Advocates’ response to the consultation and my co-editor Angus McCullough QC’s post, A Special Advocate’s comment. But although the proposals have been getting lawyers and The Guardian hot and bothered, the sound of tumbleweed has been the loudest response. Until now, that is.

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Sound of tumbleweed greets secret civil trials proposals

65 responses to the Justice and Security Green Paper consultation, which proposes introducing “Closed Material Procedures” – secret trials – into civil courts, have been published on the official consultation website. According to the site there are potentially 25 more to come.

Whilst it is a good thing that the responses have been published at all, the low number of responses is a little depressing. In a country of over 60 million people, and given the proposals could amount to a significant erosion of open justice, 90 responses seems a little thin. Granted, many of the responses are from organisations or groups of individuals, such as the 57 Special Advocates who have called the proposals a “departure from the foundational principle of natural justice“. But the low number surely represents the fact that as yet the proposals have failed to capture the public imagination.

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More secret trials? No thanks

A child learns early that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it. Thankfully that principle does not apply to Government consultations and this is aptly demonstrated by a group of responses to the consultation into whether “closed material” (secret evidence) procedures should be extended to civil trials.

Of the responses that I have read, there is very little support for the proposals as they stand and, as journalist Joshua Rozenberg has pointed out, the most damning criticism has come from the very lawyers who are currently involved in “closed” proceedings.

If you are interested in the issue, the Joint Committee on Human Rights is hearing evidence on it today from two special advocates, including my co-editor Angus McCullough QC (see his post on the topic), as well as the current and former independent reviewers of terrorism legislation. The session begins at 2:20pm and can be watched live here.

As I did with the Bill of Rights Commission consultation, I asked people to send me their consultation responses. What follows is a wholly unscientific summary of the ones I received:

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