On 26 March 2013 the House of Lords will consider the amendments to the Justice and Security Bill made by the House of Commons. We have reported on this blog on the Bill at various points in its progress, including on the Special Advocates’ views on the proposals.
The Justice and Security Bill, which will allow secret ‘closed material’ hearings to take place in civil trials, has been quietly (almost too quietly) making its way through Parliament. The Bill will allow judges to exclude lawyers, press, the public and even litigants in their own cases from civil hearings which involve national security.
Kafkaesque is a term used in almost every critical article about law ever written. But I have read The Trial (I really have!), and the effect of these proposals is not too far from that.
The key development is that many of the amendments forced through in the House of Lords under the leadership of Lord Pannick have been reversed by the Government. We have a full update coming later on the progress of the Bill, but I thought that in the mean time I would highlight a few up to date resources and developments:
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.
Angus McCullough QC and Jeremy Johnson QC at the JCHR
The overwhelming majority of Special Advocates have responded to the Justice and Security Bill by stating that the case has still not been made by the Government for the introduction of closed material procedures in other types of civil litigation. The full response is available here (PDF).
Fifty Special Advocates have signed the response. This represents an overwhelming consensus of those with substantial experience of the current system of secret hearings.
They accept that the new restriction to national security cases is an improvement, but retain the view expressed in their initial response to the Green Paper consultation, that:
CMPs are inherently unfair and contrary to the common law tradition; that the Government would have to show the most compelling reasons to justify their introduction; that no such reasons have been advanced; and that, in our view, none exists.
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.
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.
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