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While the press (and the rest of us) were preoccupied by the debate on equal marriage and the public dissection of the Huhne marriage, the Justice and Security Bill completed its next stage of passage through the Parliamentary process. Largely unwatched, a slim majority of Conservative members supported by Ian Paisley Jr., reversed each change made to the Bill by the House of Lords restoring the Government’s original vision: a brave new world where secret pleadings, hearings and judgments become the norm when a Minister claims national security may be harmed in civil litigation.
The Bill will return to the Commons for its crucial final stages on Monday. In anticipation of the debate, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has published a third damning critique of the Government’s proposals. The cross-party Committee was unimpressed by the Government rewrite of the Lords amendments. Most of Westminster was busy in Eastleigh and few political commentators flinched.
The Foreign Secretary in February 2013 issued a certificate of Public Interest Immunity (PII), on the grounds of national security and/or international relations, to prevent the disclosure of a representative sample of Government documents relating to the 2006 poisoning. In May 2013 the Coroner for the Litvinenko Inquest (Sir Robert Owen) partially rejected that certificate and ordered the disclosure of gists of material relating to some of the key issues surrounding the death(read ruling). In this judgement, a panel of three judges of the High Court unanimously quashed that ruling.
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 →
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.
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).
Publishing the Justice and Security Bill this morning, the Secretary of State for Justice said “I have used the last few months to listen to the concerns of … civil liberties campaigners with whom I usually agree.”
There are many people who today would sorely like to agree that Ken has listened and has taken their concerns on board. Unfortunately, the Government’s analysis remains fundamentally flawed. The Green Paper was clearly a “big ask”. There have undoubtedly been significant changes made from the proposals in the Green Paper. However, the secret justice proposals in the Justice and Security Bill remain fundamentally unfair, unnecessary and unjustified.
By all accounts, it has been a gloomy year for access to justice. The legal aid budget is to be reduced by £350m and state assistance has effectively disappeared in non-criminal cases. The overall justice budget, which is already low by international standards, is to be cut by a further 23%. But believe it or not, there may be reasons to be cheerful.
In the virtual world, legal blogs are becoming an established voice in the UK legal community and the flourishing blogosphere has given the public a lively, accessible and most importantly free new way of engaging with the law. With legal aid becoming scarcer and Citizens Advice Bureaus losing their funding, free information services such can be the last resort for those who seek legal help without having to pay for a lawyer.
But none of these services would exist without their hidden backbone: BAILII. To that end, when Legal Week published its excellent review of legal blogging last month, the failure to mention BAILII caused a min-revolution from a gaggle of legal bloggers in the comments section.
Last night saw the latest round of Lords debate on the Justice and Security Bill. It should be required reading for the Secretary of State. Peers from all benches challenged the Government’s case for the breadth of reform proposed in the Bill. A number of amendments have been tabled jointly in the names of members of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Lords Constitution Committee, both Committees having already castigated the Government’s proposals as potentially harmful to the common law principles of open, adversarial and equal justice.
JUSTICE hosted Ken Clarke, QC MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice in conversation earlier this week. One of the topics on the table was the Justice and Security Bill. During the evening – helpfully tweeted by the Human Rights Blog’s own Adam Wagner and others (you can read the time line of tweets here) – Ken Clarke stressed his view that the opposition to the Justice and Security Bill posed by JUSTICE together with most other human rights organisations and the Special Advocates is misguided.
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.
Updated x 2 – full details of review below | The much-heralded Ministry of Justice budget cuts will be announced shortly as part of the government spending review. Previously, it had been reported that the department’s budget would be cut by around 20%, or £2bn (see our post). However, over the weekend the Observer reported that the cut would be much larger, running to £3bn – around 30% of the total budget – which represents a 50% increase on the original figure.
The justice minister Ken Clarke is believed to have had to take an extra hit “after the defence secretary, Liam Fox, and Michael Gove at education won more generous agreements than previously expected“.
The bill introduces the first statutory definition of domestic abuse, which encompasses financial and emotional abuse as well as coercive and controlling behaviour. It would prohibit perpetrators from cross-examining their victims in court, impose polygraph tests on high-risk offenders as a condition of release, and create new powers to force perpetrators into rehabilitation programmes. Among other new protections for victims, the bill would make domestic abuse complainants automatically eligible for special measures in the criminal courts. It would also establish a new “office of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner” tasked with improving response and support for victims across public services.
Domestic violence is a major human rights issue which can deprive women of their rights to health and physical and mental integrity, freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, and the right to life. The bill has been welcomed by some as a significant step towards combatting the issue . However, writing in the Guardian, Julie Bindel criticises the new measure as “impossible to implement” and likely to be “misued by vindictive men” and “misunderstood by those tasked with protecting women”.
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:
With allegations that ministers may have misled parliamentarians on the scope of their prized Bill, the picture of political game-playing might be apt. However, this is the last chance for parliament to consider the government’s case for the expansion of “closed material procedures” (CMP), where a party to proceedings and his lawyers (together with the public and the press) are excluded – and his interests represented by a publicly appointed security vetted lawyer, known as a Special Advocate. An analogy more serious than Boris’ “wiff-waff” might be needed for tonight’s debate. Some commentators have suggested the Lords will play “ping-pong with grenades”.
Liberty v Government Communications Headquarters ( IPT/13/77/H); Privacy International v FCO and others (IPT/13/92/CH); American Civil Liberties Union v Government Communications Headquarters (IPT/13/168-173/H); Amnesty International Ltd v The Security Service and others (IPT/13/194/CH); Bytes for All v FCO (IPT/13/204/CH), The Investigatory Powers Tribunal  UKIPTrib 13_77-, 5 December 2014 – read judgment
Robert Seabrook QC is on the panel of the IPT and David Manknell of 1 Crown Office acted as Counsel to the Tribunal in this case. They have nothing to do with the writing of this post.
This is a fascinating case, not just on the facts or merits but because it is generated by two of the major catalysts of public law litigation: the government’s duty to look after the security of its citizens, and the rapid outpacing of surveillance law by communications technology. Anyone who has seen The Imitation Game, a film loosely based on the biography of Alan Turing, will appreciate the conflicting currents at the core of this case: the rights of an individual to know, and foresee, what the limits of his freedom are, and the necessity to conceal from the enemy how much we know about their methods. Except the Turing film takes place in official wartime, whereas now the state of being at “war” has taken on a wholly different character. Continue reading →
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