The unfairness of secret hearings is being aggravated by sustained neglect of the special advocate system. In this piece I explain why I have regretfully concluded that I cannot accept any new appointments as a special advocate until the Government provides proper support for that system.
25 June 2023 was the tenth anniversary of section 6 of the Justice and Security Act 2013 (the JSA) coming into force. It was an anniversary that, as far as I know, passed unremarked. Nevertheless it was a remarkable anniversary – though not a cause for celebration. This is because it marked 5 years since the date that Parliament had required a review of the controversial procedures under the Act, involving secret closed hearings – and yet the Government’s response to the recommendations from that review was still awaited. Even now, no Government response has been forthcoming, nearly a year after the long-delayed report was published, despite the urgency attached to some of the recommendations.
The Special Advocates have responded to the Government’s submission to the statutory Review of closed proceedings being conducted by Sir Duncan Ouseley — but HMG’s submission remains unpublished.
The delayed statutory review into closed proceedings under the Justice and Security Act 2013 (JSA) is reaching its conclusion. According to the Government’s website, it is estimated that the report “should be laid before Parliament early in 2022”.
A very brief recap:
Closed material procedures (CMPs) enable the Government to rely on secret evidence in legal proceedings, without showing that evidence to the other party. To reduce the unfairness inherent in that, a special advocate is appointed to review the secret material and represent the interests of the party excluded from access to it, including in hearings held in secret.
The JSA came into force in June 2013. Controversially, it included provisions making secret procedures (CMPs) available across the full range of civil proceedings.
One of the safeguards required by Parliament during the Bill’s bumpy passage was a review of the operation of CMPs under the Act after it had been in force for 5 years.
Another year (with further enquiries as to the position from various quarters in the meantime – summarised here) was to pass before the Government announced that a Reviewer had been appointed: Sir Duncan Ouseley, a retired High Court Judge and former President of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC – the body responsible for hearing CMPs in statutory immigration appeals), so with wide experience of CMPs from his judicial career. The call for evidence took place earlier this year, closing just over 3 years beyond the date that the review should have taken place.
The Special Advocates (of whom I am one) made a detailed submission to the Reviewer based on our collective experience of CMPs under the JSA. This was published on this blog here: Secret Justice – The Insiders’ View. We highlighted some serious concerns that we had encountered with the practical operation of CMPs under the JSA. We also drew attention to commitments that the Government had made when the Bill was passing, to improve the effectiveness of the system, which had not been honoured.
We have seen no response from the Government to the detailed critique that we set out in our paper, and we do not know whether any attempt at a comprehensive reply by HMG has been submitted to the Reviewer.
What of the Government’s submission to the Review? In publishing our paper for the Review, in the interests of openness and promoting public debate, the SAs had expressed the hope that HMG’s response (and that of any other Government bodies or agencies) would do likewise:
In a corresponding spirit of transparency, it is hoped that any submissions to this review on behalf of Government bodies or agencies will be published in full, and so made available for wider review and comment. [para 5 of SAs’ submission of 8.6.21]
That has not been done. What did happen was that on 29 July 2021 the SAs were sent the Government’s Response by the Reviewer (not HMG) and told that this response was shared in confidence, and was not for onward transmission.
A collective submission made by special advocates (security-cleared barristers who appear in secret proceedings) has been cleared for publication. This document is a response to the review being performed by Sir Duncan Ouseley, looking into the operation of closed material procedures (CMPs) under the Justice and Security Act 2013. It gives an unprecedented insight into the workings and challenges of these procedures, which enable the State to rely on secret material not shown to the other side in court proceedings.
I have acted as a special advocate since 2002, and am one of the 33 special advocates who have subscribed to the submission. Together, we have experience of every case in which the procedures under the 2013 Act have been invoked, across the UK. I believe that the submission is an important contribution to the public understanding of CMPs, which are generally shielded from any scrutiny. The conduct of the Review itself is not only a safeguard which Parliament had imposed in the face of controversy and concerns at the time the proposals that led to the Act were being debated. It is also a prime opportunity for open discussion and debate in relation to these procedures. Sir Duncan Ouseley is a retired High Court Judge with extensive experience of CMPs so is eminently well placed to be undertaking this task.
In January 2020 I posted a piece on this blog, entitled “Secret Justice”: An Oxymoron and the Overdue Review. This sets out the background to these secret procedures, which I will not repeat here. In that piece I raised concern at the continuing failure by the Government to implement the review that Parliament had required to be performed “as soon as reasonably practicable” five years after the relevant procedures under the Justice and Security Act 2013 (JSA) came into force. That 5 year anniversary had come and gone in June 2018, and in January 2020 there was still no sign of the Government complying with the law in section 13 of the JSA. It was to be another year before the review was finally announced in February 2021. On 7 April 2021 the ‘Call for Evidence’ was issued on behalf of the reviewer, just short of three years after the end of the period that was to be reviewed.
Angus McCullough QC is a barrister at 1 Crown Office Row with experience of acting as a Special Advocate in closed proceedings since 2002.
The Government has still not implemented the review of Closed Procedures that Parliament had dictated should take place when passing the Justice and Security Act 2013. A review is required to cover the first five years after the Act came into force, and should have been completed “as soon as reasonably practicable” thereafter. That period expired in June 2018, and there are still no signs of a reviewer being appointed.
Readers familiar with closed procedures and their background may wish to skip the first half of this post.
‘Secret Justice’ is a deliberate oxymoron, used by some legal commentators as a term for Closed Material Procedures (CMPs). Justice, of course should generally be open and transparent, not secret. The principle of open justice dates back centuries, and the law reports are full of reiterations of its importance. Here’s one example, this from Lord Woolf in R v Legal Aid Board, ex p Kaim Todner  QB 966:
The need to be vigilant arises from the natural tendency for the general principle to be eroded and for exceptions to grow by accretion as the exceptions are applied by analogy to existing cases. This is the reason it is so important not to forget why proceedings are required to be subjected to the full glare of a public hearing. It is necessary because the public nature of proceedings deters inappropriate behaviour on the part of the court. It also maintains the public’s confidence in the administration of justice. It enables the public to know that justice is being administered impartially. It can result in evidence becoming available which would not become available if the proceedings were conducted behind closed doors or with one or more of the parties’ or witnesses’ identity concealed. It makes uninformed and inaccurate comment about the proceedings less likely. If secrecy is restricted to those situations where justice would be frustrated if the cloak of anonymity is not provided, this reduces the risk of the sanction of contempt having to be invoked, with the expense and the interference with the administration of justice which this can involve.
An equally fundamental principle of fairness in legal proceedings is that a party should know the evidence and case against them. This has even been given a Latin epithet (audi alteram partem). But you don’t need to be a scholar of either classics or law to appreciate that being aware of the material that the other side is putting before the court, and having the opportunity to challenge and answer it, is a cardinal feature of fair legal proceedings. The personification of Justice (see picture) is blindfolded, to represent her impartiality; but litigants are expected to have an unimpaired view of the proceedings.
Angus McCullough QC is a barrister at One Crown Office Row. Read Part 1 about Anonymity orders in Personal Injury proceedings here.
In Part 1 we looked at the circumstances in which a court may be prepared to grant anonymity in personal injury proceedings, and the applicable principles. In Part 2 I consider practical issues in the drafting of these orders, and problems encountered in this.
In particular, I will suggest that the standard Court Form PF10, that is now frequently being adopted, is generally inappropriate for anonymity orders in personal injury proceedings.
Amendments to CPR r.39.2; new Guidance issued by the Master of the Rolls; and a recent High Court decision refusing anonymity to a claimant prompt this review of anonymity orders in personal injury proceedings.
You act for someone who is vulnerable as a result of a serious brain injury. Her claim has been settled, and as a result your client is due to receive a large award of compensation, of several million pounds. The Court’s approval of the settlement is required (under the Civil Procedure Rules r.21.10). There is a concern that if there is publicity about the award your vulnerable client will be targeted and exploited by unscrupulous individuals. However, principles of open justice, and rights under Article 10 (freedom of speech), are engaged and favour unrestricted reporting of court proceedings.
A flash-back to 1980: the first series of the TV sitcom, ‘Yes Minister’ and a discussion between a Permanent Secretary (Sir Humphrey Appleby) and his Minister (the Rt Hon Jim Hacker MP):
Sir Humphrey: Minister, Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last five hundred years: to create a disunited Europe. In that cause we have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish, with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians. Divide and rule, you see. Why should we change now, when it’s worked so well?
Hacker: That’s all ancient history, surely?
Sir Humphrey: Yes, and current policy. We had to break the whole thing up, so we had to get inside. We tried to break it up from the outside, but that wouldn’t work. Now that we’re inside we can make a complete pig’s breakfast of the whole thing — set the Germans against the French, the French against the Italians, the Italians against the Dutch… The Foreign Office is terribly pleased; it’s just like old times.
Hacker: But surely we’re all committed to the European ideal?
Sir Humphrey: [chuckles] Really, Minister.
Nearly 40 years later, as the Westminster Government seeks to extract the UK from the European project, chuckles are in short supply (in contrast to articles about Brexit). This piece considers the role of judicial review as the EU Withdrawal Bill is enacted, and after Brexit day has dawned – and the capacity of the Administrative Court to meet the increased demands that will predictably be made of it.
Our recent post highlights the Government’s consultation on the Justice and Security Green Paper. Having been involved as a Special Advocate in many hearings involving closed material, I am troubled about these proposals, as well as the lack of public debate that they have generated.
The main proposals in the Green Paper are based on the highly debatable assumption that existing closed material procedures (CMPs as per the acronym adopted) have been shown to operate fairly and effectively. CMPs, were first introduced in 1997 and have escalated in their application since then. At §2.3 of the Green Paper it is stated that:
The contexts in which CMPs are already used have proved that they are capable of delivering procedural fairness. The effectiveness of the Special Advocate system is central to this … .
This post is adapted from a presentation given at the Justice Human Rights Law Conference, and will be split into four parts. Part 1 can be found here.
Today I concentrate on Article 3: inhuman and degrading treatment (click here for previous posts on Article 3).
A range of cases – as ever, mostly arising in the context of immigration, extradition, and prisons – have been decided in the last year, but most are fact-specific, and few have given rise to particularly significant developments of principle.
This post is adapted from a presentation given at the Justice Human Rights Law Conference, and will be split into four parts.
I aim to summarise the most important judicial review cases concerning Articles 2, 3, 5, 6 and 12 of the ECHR during the last year. I have also included two other cases of interest, although they cannot be categorised under any of these Articles. Today, Article 2: the right to life (click here for previous posts on the right to life).
The substantive Article 2 duty owed to mental patients
The CA have clarified the scope and application of Savage. The HL in Savage had left unclear – to say the least – whether its finding that an operational ‘Osman’ type duty applied to a compulsorily detained mental patient extended to a voluntary mental patient.
We have highlighted the obituaries and tributes to Lord Bingham yesterday and today. For those interested in a more extensive review of his judicial contributions to the field of administrative law generally, and human rights law in particular, I would recommend an article published by Michael Fordham QC in Judicial Review last year:  JR 103.
This was a paper presented to the Hart Judicial Review Conference in December 2008. As Fordham says:
There is no better way to illustrate and celebrate Lord Bingham’s contribution to administrative law than through his own words. What follows is a tapestry, no doubt just one from many, capable of being woven using strands of Lord Bingham’s judicial analysis, which will for decades to come guide and equip practitioners, academics and judges in the field of public law and human rights.
Even if technically obiter, it is suggested that the reasoned decision of the majority of the Supreme Court in Smith is likely to be regarded as binding in practice, if not in strict theory.
This is a postscript to Adam Wagner’s post this morning on the UKSC decision in R (Smith) v. MOD (see our post summarising the decision or read the judgment), commenting on the debate as to the authority of the judgment of the majority on the jurisdictional issue.
It may be worth bearing in mind the weight likely to be accorded by any lower court to the views of the majority of a 9 judge constitution of the Supreme Court. Even if not technically binding, it is hard to imagine any judge at first instance, or even the Court of Appeal, having the courage to depart from the reasoned views of the majority on this point, unless arising in some unforeseen or unusual factual context.
In relation to the UK, Amnesty’s report condemns the UK’s continuing reliance on “diplomatic assurances” in deportation cases where individuals were likely to be at risk of torture or other abuse if sent to countries where the Government accepts they would otherwise be abuse, in particular Algeria and Jordan. The report summarises that:
Reports implicating the UK in grave violations of human rights of people held overseas continued to emerge. Calls for independent investigations into the UK’s role in these violations went unheeded. The government’s attempts to return people to countries known to practise torture on the basis of “diplomatic assurances” (unenforceable promises from the countries where these individuals were to be returned) continued. The European Court of Human Rights found that, by detaining a number of foreign nationals without charge or trial (internment), the UK had violated their human rights. The implementation of measures adopted with the stated aim of countering terrorism led to human rights violations, including unfair judicial proceedings.
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