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.
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.
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:
2012 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
A (A Child) v The Chief Constable of Dorset Police  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.
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.
Two jury trials will resume at the Old Bailey this week in the first steps toward Crown court cases restarting around the country. It has been almost two months since jury trials were suspended on 23 March amid coronavirus lockdown measures.
In his announcement, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, began by affirming that “the practice of trial by jury sits at the heart of our criminal justice system.” In contrast, the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC, began his statement with a more equivocal comment about a well-functioning justice system being the hallmark of a healthy democracy.
W (Algeria) (FC) and BB (Algeria) (FC) and others v Secretary of State for the Home Department  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.
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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