secret justice


Secret trials – a little transparency, a lot to worry about – Lawrence McNamara

12 June 2014 by

RCJ restricted accessGuardian News and Media Ltd -v- AB CD – Read preliminary judgment

The Court of Appeal has published its decision in Guardian News Media v AB and CD. It is not a judgment, the Court says. Judgments – plural – will be given “in due course.” Still, the 24 paragraph decision contains the order and explanation of the order, and gives an indication of some of the reasons that will follow.

Is this a good decision? It is better than it might have been, but there are still deeply worrying problems.

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The “uneasy” co-existence of public interest immunity and closed material procedure

7 November 2013 by

blind justiceCF v Security Service and others and Mohamed v Foreign and Commonwealth Office and others [[2013] EWHC 3402 (QB) – read judgment

The High Court has today made the first court ruling on the use of the Justice and Security Act 2013 in a civil claim for damages.

In a ruling on preliminary issues, Irwin J made a declaration that the government can make a closed material application to the court in this case. The Court also ruled on PII. The following summary is based on the Court’s press release.

Factual background

CF and Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed are both British citizens of Somali descent. CF left the United Kingdom in 2009, Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed having left in 2007. They were both detained by the Somaliland Authorities on 14 January 2011. They were then detained until removal to the UK on 14 March 2011. Each claims that they were unlawfully detained, tortured and mistreated during the period of detention in Somaliland.
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Chakrabarti debates Clarke on secret courts bill

7 March 2013 by

ClarkerabartiThe Constitutional and Administrative Bar Association (ALBA)  hosted an invigorating debate on Tuesday night, pitting Minister without Portfolio Ken Clarke against Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, over the question of Closed Material Procedures (CMPs) in civil claims, as proposed in the Justice and Security Bill.

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.

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Government has still not made case for “inherently unfair” secret trials, say Special Advocates

14 June 2012 by

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.

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Justice and Security Bill: The Government is not for turning – Angela Patrick

29 May 2012 by

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.

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Key Justice and Security Bill resources

29 May 2012 by

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:

  • The Ministry of Justice’s page on the Bill, including some ‘myth-busting’ (including ‘This is undermining the centuries old legal tradition’) is here.
  • 84 responses to the Green Paper which led to this bill can be found here, and the Government’s response of 29 May is here.
  • The Joint Committee on Human Rights’ highly critical report on the proposals is here.
  • 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.

More to come on the proposals soon…

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Pssst… no secret hearings in naturalisation cases

22 May 2012 by

AHK and Others v The Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] 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.


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More secret trials? No thanks

31 January 2012 by

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:

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More secret justice on the horizon

19 October 2011 by

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.

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Iranian Bank anti-terrorism restrictions order upheld

15 June 2010 by

Bank Mellat v HM Treasury [2010] EWHC 1332(QB) Miity J 25/5/2010 – read judgment

A challenge to the imposition of a Financial Restrictions Order on an Iranian Bank alleged to have supported Iran’s nuclear program has been dismissed as the order was not considered disproportionate in the light of the importance of the public interested protected.

The order, which directed that anyone in the UK financial sector must not enter into or continue to participate in business with Bank Mellat, was maintained despite the Court of Appeal’s refusal to allow the government to rely upon secret evidence in order to prove the bank’s links with the nuclear program (see Court of Appeal launches offensive against secret justice with three linked judgments).

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