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:
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.
AHK and Others v The Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 1117 (Admin) – Read judgment
Secrecy and secret justice are rarely out of the public eye. The Queen’s speech included plans to allow secret hearings in civil claims, at a time when their use is highly controversial. The government argues they are necessary to safeguard national security. Civil liberties groups and even the Special Advocates who help administer them, regard them as a bar to real justice and fair hearings.
So it seems appropriate at this time that the High Court has handed down an important decision on the use of Closed Material Procedures (CMP) in Judicial Review claims relating to naturalisation (the process by which foreigners can be ‘naturalised’ as British citizens). In simple terms, this is a variety of procedure where the government can rely on evidence which it has not disclosed to the opposing party, in a closed hearing. In the closed proceedings, the Claimants are represented by Special Advocates, who are subject to strict rules relating to what they can and cannot tell their clients.
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.
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.
The group of 57 barristers, including 19 Queen’s Counsel, argue that despite attempts, for example, to give those subject to “Closed Material Procedures” a summary of the evidence against them, they remain “fundamentally unfair” and
represent a departure from the foundational principle of natural justice that all parties are entitled to see and challenge all the evidence relied upon before the court and to combat that evidence by calling evidence of their own.
The document is a response to the Government’s Consultation (see my and Angus McCullough QC’s previous posts) which have to be sent via email or post by tomorrow,Friday 6 January 2012. I will be collating summaries of responses as I did with the Bill of Rights Commission consultation. If you would like your response to be included, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject “Consultation response”.
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 … .
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.
The Cabinet Office has released its long awaited (by this blog at least) Justice and Security Green Paper, addressing the difficult question of to what extent the state must reveal secret information in court proceedings. A consultation has been launched on the proposals; responses can be sent via email by Friday 6 January 2012.
The review was announced shortly after the Coalition Government came to power, on the same day that Sir Peter Gibson’s Detainee Inquiry was launched. In summary, the Government has recommended that controversial Closed Material Procedures and Special Advocates are used more frequently, particularly in civil proceedings. The courts have been reluctant to take this step themselves as any expansion of secret procedures will have significant effects on open justice and the right to a fair trial.
1 Crown Office Row’s Peter Skelton appeared for The Security Services in this case. He is not the author of this post.
On Wednesday last week, the Supreme Court handed out two apparently contradictory judgments on what seemed to be the same issue – see our reports here and here. Had they taken leave of their senses? In one case, the court appeared to say, there was no illegality or human rights-incompatibility with a procedure that dispensed with the requirement that all the material must be shown to both parties in every case. In the other, it ruled that such a “closed procedure” was such an insult to “fundamental” common law principles of open justice and fairness that no court, however lofty, would have the jurisdiction to order it without statutory authority.
The key to this apparent inconsistency lies in the principles at the heart of these cases, which pull in opposite directions: the principle of fair and open justice, or, in Article 6 terms, “equality of arms,” versus the principle that gives weight to the interests of national security.
In Tariq v Home Office the Court considered the permissibility and compatibility with European Union law and the European Convention of a closed material procedure authorised by certain statutory provisions. The issues in that case centred on the lawfulness and effect of those provisions and their compatibility with, amongst others, Article 6 of the Convention, whereas in Al Rawi v Home Office the Court was concerned with the position at common law. This superficially small distinction made the world of difference to the outcome of both cases. Continue reading →
At the centre of this appeal was the court’s power to order a “closed material procedure” for the whole or part of the trial of a civil claim for damages. The question arose as a “preliminary issue” – a point to be determined on its own – in the appellants’ compensation claim for their alleged detention, rendition and mistreatment by foreign authorities in various locations, including Guantanamo Bay.
In countering the respondents’ claim for compensation, the appellant security services claimed that they had security sensitive material within their possession which they wished the court to consider in their defence but which could not be disclosed to the respondents. They therefore sought a “closed material procedure” for this part of their defence – a procedure whereby a party can withhold certain material from the other side where its disclosure would be contrary to the public interest. Continue reading →
In these appeals the question was whether a claimant in employment tribunal proceedings may be excluded from certain aspects of those proceedings on grounds of national security, without breaching the right to fair trail under Article 6 of the Convention. Mr Tariq had been suspended from his job as immigration officer following the arrest of his brother and cousin for involvement in the suspected transatlantic airline terrorist plot. There was no suggestion that Mr Tariq himself had been involved. Continue reading →
Al Rawi & Ors v the Security Service & Ors  EWHC 1496 (QB) (21 June 2010) – Read judgment
The Government has received another in an increasingly long line of blows in the Al Rawi & Others foreign torture case, with Mr Justice Silber ordering a closed hearing to see whether two key security service documents are to be disclosed to the claimants. If the Government chooses not to claim public interest immunity, which is unlikely, the documents will be disclosed immediately.
The compensation claim involves six claimants who were detained at various locations, including Guantanamo Bay and Bagram in Afghanistan, alleging various forms of mistreatment. They claim to have been subjected to false imprisonment, trespass to the person, conspiracy to injure, torture, breach of contract, negligence, misfeasance in public office and breaches of their rights under the Human Rights Act 1998.
The Government has recently ordered a public inquiry into the security services’ alleged complicity in torture, but this is not likely to start until after the Al Rawi claims are resolved.
The Court of Appeal has told the Government three times in 24 hours that it cannot keep evidence secret in civil proceedings. Similar reasoning was applied in three different contexts; the employment tribunal, a case relating to Iranian nuclear proliferation and a claim for damages for foreign torture.
An identically constituted court as in the Al-Rawi and others judgment had already held on the same day that evidence in a high-profile torture compensation claim should not be kept entirely secret.
In two further decisions, the same judges held that the Treasury must give sufficient disclosure to allow a bank accused of involvement in Iranian nuclear proliferation to not just deny but refute the allegations (Bank Mellat v HM Treasury), and that the Home Office must provide the “gist” of material it had wanted to keep secret from an employment tribunal (Home Office v Tariq). The court did not, however, go as far as saying that evidence can never be kept secret in cases involving national security.
All three cases revolve around the controversial “closed material procedure“, which allows certain evidence to be kept from the public and sometimes a defendant, and the use of “special advocates” (SA). As the Court of Appeal said in para 1 of the judgment, these procedures, developed as part of the fight against terrorism, represent “exceptions to the fundamental principle of open justice.” We have posted about the issues surrounding the special advocate system in relation to control orders (read post).
The cases higlight the strong line the courts have taken towards open justice since the AF case in 2009, a criminal matter in which the House of Lords (now the Supreme Court) held that it was a breach of the right to a fair trial under Article 6 to hold someone under a control order without sufficient information about the allegations against him even where disclosure would compromise the country’s national security (read our case comment).
R(on the application of Binyam Mohamed) v Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs  EWCA Civ 65
This appeal was brought by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (“the Foreign Secretary”) against a decision of the Divisional Court to include seven short paragraphs in the open version of a judgment, notwithstanding the fact that the Foreign Secretary had started in a number of Public Interest Immunity Certificates that such publication would lead to a real risk of serious harm to the national security of the UK.
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