Justice and Security Bill: JUSTICE urges MPs to act now to stop the expansion of Secret Evidence

Monday afternoon will see the Justice and Security Bill return to the House of Commons for some key votes. The “Secret Courts” Bill would introduce closed material procedures (CMP) – where one party is excluded from a claim, together with his or her legal team, from part or all of a case, their interests represented by a security-vetted Special Advocate, who can’t receive instructions – into ordinary civil claims.

JUSTICE considers that the Government’s proposal to introduce closed material procedures (CMP) into all civil proceedings is unfair, unnecessary and unjustified. That one party will present his case unchallenged to the judge in the absence of the other party and his lawyers is inconsistent with the common law tradition of civil justice where proceedings are open, adversarial and equal.  Introducing CMP into the ordinary civil justice “toolkit” of our judiciary could undermine their credibility irreparably and damage public confidence in the civil justice system, rights abuse, through torture, inhuman and degrading treatment in the context of the so-called “war on terror”.

The Supreme Court in Al-Rawi refused to expand these inherently unfair procedures, concluding that such a fundamental change would require “compelling evidence”.  JUSTICE considers that Parliamentarians should ask for no less.

The case for reform is not supported by evidence and the arguments in favour of change do not stand up to close scrutiny.  In the absence of compelling justification for the expansion of secret evidence, JUSTICE urges Members to support the amendments which delete Clauses 6 – 12 from the Bill.   Amendment alone cannot address the serious implications of Clauses 6 – 12 for our civil justice system.

However, should Parliament accept the case for Part 2 of the Bill, JUSTICE considers that the whole package of amendments proposed by the JCHR should be adopted in order to empower and encourage the Court to consider the public interest in open, equal and adversarial justice and to try to ensure CMP remains a measure of last resort.   If the Government resists this package of safeguards, JUSTICE considers that Parliamentarians should accept that the case for deletion is overwhelming.

Angela Patrick, Director of Human Rights Policy said:

“This Bill isn’t about terrorism.  Nor is it about national security.  It is about judges being asked to decide a case having heard only one side of a story.  It is about throwing away a centuries’ old common law guarantee on open, natural justice.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights – for the third time – has rejected the Government case.  No equivalent of a three-strikes rule in Parliament, but it is time for MPs to listen.   There is no case for reform; and the Government is unwilling to step back. 

We call on MPs to defend the credibility of our civil justice system by wiping all trace of secret courts from this ill-conceived Bill.”

For further information and briefing, contact Angela Patrick, Director of Human Rights Policy on 020 7762 6415 or mailto: apatrick@justice.org.uk

Read JUSTICE’s briefing – sent to MPs in advance of Monday’s debate on the Bill