Search Results for: secret trials


Sound of tumbleweed greets secret civil trials proposals

14 February 2012 by

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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Taking stock after Abu Qatada: Assurances, secret detention and evidence in closed proceedings

24 June 2012 by

XX v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWCA Civ 742 – Read judgment

The Court of Appeal recently issued its judgment in XX v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] 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.

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More secret trials? No thanks

31 January 2012 by

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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The biggest human rights stories of 2012 – Part 1

29 December 2012 by

UKHRB 2012 year in review2012 has been a busy year on the UK human rights front, never short of controversy, hyperbole and even some interesting points of legal principle along the way.

The Human Rights Act 1998, twelve years young, has been under fairly constant attack from politicians and newspapers. Meanwhile, the HRA has been operating pretty well in the courts, with judges producing a steady stream of interesting home-grown human rights judgments. The European Court of Human Rights has produced some fascinating and controversial judgments, and has also, thanks to the UK’s presidency, signed up to some significant reforms.

Here are a few highlights from January to March – hopefully I will have time to complete the rest of the year!

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Justice wide shut

1 March 2012 by

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

26 November 2012 by

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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A secret justice climb down? Perhaps not

21 May 2012 by

Angus McCullough QC and Jeremy Johnson QC, Special Advocates at the JCHR

It appears that the Government has climbed down, in part, from some of its controversial secret justice proposals.  According to the Telegraph, the Justice and Security Bill, which will be published this week, will include a provision whereby judges, not the Government, has the final say on whether a Closed Material Procedure (CMP) is used. Moreover, CMPs will be restricted to “national security cases” rather than any case “in the public interest”. 

It “remains uncertain”, however, “whether Mr Clarke will exclude inquests from being subject to the secret hearings.” Junior Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly caused a stir last week when he appeared prematurely to announce that particular concession in Parliament, but quickly stepped back from his statement.  In view of the likely legislative bartering which will occur as the bill progresses through Parliament, perhaps this is a concession which was meant to be left until later in the process.

We will analyse the bill when it is published later this week. But as this important debate resurfaces and the manoeuvring continues, it is important to keep two things in mind.

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Chakrabarti debates Clarke on secret courts bill

7 March 2013 by

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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Should more trials be held in secret?

1 December 2011 by

There is just over a month left to respond to the Government’s consultation on the Justice and Security Green Paper. Responses have to be be sent via email or post by Friday 6 January 2012.

The proposals have been little reported, save for journalist Joshua Rozenberg, channeling Dinah Rose QC, warning that they will “undermine a fundamental constitutional right:”. Perhaps legal correspondents prefer to pick over testimony from the glamorous Leveson Inquiry as opposed to complicated government proposals involving clunky  phrases – some would say fig leaves – like “Closed Material Procedure” and “Special Advocate”.

But these proposals are extremely important. If they become law, which is likely given the lack of opposition from any of the main parties, the justice system will look very different in the coming years. Many civil hearings could be held in secret, and although (as the Government argues anyway) more justice may be done, undoubtedly less will be seen to be done.

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Opening of secret evidence rules not limited to terrorism cases

22 July 2010 by

A (A Child) v The Chief Constable of Dorset Police [2010] EWHC 1748 (Admin) (16 July 2010) – Read judgment

The High Court has ruled that the gist of sensitive evidence in a case involving a child being picked up for being spotted with an “inappropriate adult” must be disclosed in order that the child can bring a claim against the police.

The case is probably the first to follow the significant restriction of the use of secret evidence resulting from the Al Rawi decision (see our previous post), in which the Court of Appeal rejected a request by the Government that evidence in a torture compensation claim be kept secret from the public, and emphasised that the interests of open justice would be seriously compromised if this kind of request were ever granted in a civil case, even in very limited circumstances.

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Lord Chief Justice bolsters right to trial by jury

26 July 2010 by

KS v R [2010] EWCA Crim 1756 (23 July 2010) – Read judgment

J, S, M v R [2010] EWCA Crim 1755 – Read judgment

The Lord Chief Justice has emphasised in two Court of Appeal judgments that the jury-less trials must be a last resort and take place only in truly extreme cases. His comments are clearly aimed at putting the breakers on an accelerating trend of requests for jury-less trials in prosecutions of serious crime, following the ground-breaking but controversial ‘Heathrow heist’ trial.

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 limited for the first time the right to trial by jury in the Crown Court, where trials for serious crimes take place. Section 44 provides for the option of judge-only trials if there is a “real and present danger” of jury tampering.

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Criticisms remain as dust settles on secret trials bill

5 June 2012 by

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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Witness allowed to give secret evidence of torture in Algeria says Supreme Court

7 March 2012 by

W (Algeria) (FC) and BB (Algeria) (FC) and others v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] UKSC 8 – read judgment

The court is entitled to make an order for a witness to give evidence before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) in such a way that the identity of the witness and the substance of the evidence remains confidential. Such an order will only be granted if the court is satisfied that a witness can give evidence which appears to be capable of belief and which could be decisive or at least highly material on the issue of safety of return and it has no reason to doubt that the witness genuinely and reasonably fears that he and/or others close to him would face reprisals if his identity and the evidence that he is willing to give were disclosed to the relevant foreign state.

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Time to untangle the debate over secret courts – Angela Patrick

24 September 2012 by

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).

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Are trials without juries always illiberal?

24 May 2010 by

Under threat?

The Coalition Government has pledged to “protect” the right to trial by jury. It is often assumed that the a jury is needed to ensure a fair trial, but Sir Louis Blom-Cooper argues in an interesting article in the Guardian that juries may not always be essential, particularly in cases involving serious organised crime.

Blom-Cooper, an academic and barrister, argues that jury-less trials need not always be illiberal. He says “The experience in Northern Ireland over three decades suggests that serious organised crimes can effectively and efficiently be tried before a professional court ‑ a single judge or perhaps three judges.” He also suggests that defendants ought to be able to waive their right to trial by jury as is the case in many other jurisdictions.
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