28 February 2013 Byline – Sam Khan – McIntyre
Despite widespread opposition and lack of evidence for its requirement, from campaigners, the Controversial Justice and Security Bill, which will legitimise closed one – sided court cases, looks set to go ahead on date? Due to pressure from Government security Agencies.
This bill aims to bring closed material procedures, or CMPs into law which will ensure that a claimant’s lawyer, as well as the claimant, will be denied access to documents which are deemed to be a security risk, and so cannot contest them.
Only a government appointed special advocate will be able to see the documents, who will be unable to even discuss them with the claimant and his lawyer. Therefore he will have to argue a one-sided case without full access to the facts, according to Kevin Laue of Redress. This is a human rights organisation helping torture survivors.
Whole cases conducted in secret may be another result, even if one word is deemed sensitive, and which can currently just be crossed out.
The controversial reforms are being pushed by government agencies such as M15 and M16 to which the government are listening, despite the government having provided no evidence of a such a national security requirement. Current laws which allow security services to keep certain documents secret are adequate, according to Laue.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights has been critical of the proposed measures, said Sophie Farthing, policy officer for Liberty, a human rights organisation. Liberty have been lobbying against the bill since it was proposed in the green paper in October 2011.
Among those raising objections she stated, are the Daily Mail, who printed petition signed by 700 layers. As a result Liberty joined forces with the newspaper. The public have also voiced opposition, for example through the campaign group 38 Degrees, when 29,000 out of a million members objected to the bill.
The House of Lords, Labour and the Liberal Democrats also tabled amendments to the relevant clause 6 of the bill, which were however overturned by the government.
These amendments had aimed to introduce increased judicial digression over the proposed closed courts, as well as a balancing exercise for the judge in his consideration of evidence.
The bill was passed in the commons on DATE? by a majority of MPS (11) who rejected a third reading. There is still further final reading taking place in the House of Lords DATE? therefore there is still time to put pressure on them to make changes, says Farthing, and that it looks likely the bill will become law at the end of March.
Said Farthing – Government wrongdoings, as in the case of Binyam Mohammed, a British resident, who was tortured with the government’s knowledge, and other 9/11 cases were the origins of this bill. This bill is a way for the government and agencies to cover up such allegations up by making decisions behind closed doors where the claimant is unable to defend himself, as he is denied access to relevant evidence.
This situation of torture added Farthing is just one aspect of what the government may want to cover up, and the CMP could be applied to other issues such as complaints against police or medical negligence, and lead to miscarriages of justice.
The real reason for government secretiveness is not national security concerns, but that it does not want to face embarrassment if evidence of its wrongdoing leaks out to the public, as happened with the Binyam case, said Laue.
The proposals will mean that ‘holding someone to account, when you cannot challenge, or even hear the evidence they are using against you, will be near impossible says Donald Campbell, and quotes Former Lord Chief Justice Lord Bingham that it will be like ‘taking blind shots at a hidden target’.
With the view that it should be the judge’s decision when ‘on some occasions when some evidence should not be given in open court [which] should happen only if absolutely necessary’ and that ‘judge should decide…not the government or prosecution’ Labour MP for Edinburgh, Mark Lazarowicz described the amendments Labour, supported by the SNP and Plaid Cymru sought to reintroduce on the 4th of March. These being ‘a number of extra safeguards which had originally been put in by the House of Lords’. He added that ‘Unfortunately, our attempt to do so was outvoted’ (even though a number of LibDems and Tory MPs voted with us’?).
He suggests however that ‘I cannot imagine that the powers would be used anything but rarely’. And that ‘some evidence should not be given in open court, for example where it would reveal intelligence information’
The reason for the rejection of the amendments is given by Kevin Laue of redress:
‘Because it is precisely when the UK may have been involved in torture that the government wants to cover up’.
The aim of the proposals, as being national security is a ‘red herring’, Kevin continues, and that ‘it will aid covering up embarrassment where the UK has broken its own laws, and international law [because] ‘Torture and complicity in torture is prohibited everywhere and at all times’.
Donald Campbell of Reprieve agrees, saying that the ‘intention’ of the proposals are that ‘secret courts would make it far harder to hold the government to account in cases of rendition and torture’. This he adds, is ‘due to the lack of any other evidence that they are needed’.
The situation where the government found the need for such a proposal arose due to the case of Binyam Mohammed said Donald, ‘as a response to the embarrassment which the government and its intelligence agencies suffered when it emerged through the courts that they had been involved in [his] torture and rendition’. The issue being that the British public discovered the government’s wrongdoings.
Cut shorter-rewrite-according to Kevin: ‘put simply, and regarding this bill, the UK wanted to cover- up details in a document it had which showed it knew Binyam had been tortured by US officials. It said if it disclosed the document, the USA wouldn’t share secret intelligence any more with the UK, which was untrue. The UK was trying to hide facts actually admitted in a USA court. It was trying to hide embarrassment- there was no national security involved.It is precisely this sort if document which would be kept secret in future if the bill goes through.((
Law and democracy
Kevin: ‘It is [part of] the mission-creep attack on civil liberties we have seen in the last decade. The UK’s courts have tried to protect human rights, but the government is much more concerned with avoiding accountability and hiding behind ‘national security’. And that ‘it is frightening the lengths the government is going to’.
Kevin: also Describes the bill as an extremely serious attack on the most fundamental freedoms this country has developed over centuries’. He said that the ‘an open civil procedure system […] is part of the rule of law and democracy’ because it is ‘not only for all parties but for the public to know what a case is all about and why judges make decisions the way they do’.
Donald: also that ‘the primary impact of this bill would be on the ability of the public to hold government in check through the courts’ because they would be denied the truth. And Sophie that public rights are concerned’ and in whose name the proposals were made.
Other ‘ far reaching effects mean that donald: that it would do serious damage to centuries- old legal freedoms and Kevin: ‘it exposes the UK to justified accusations of hypocrisy’ added Kevin, and furthermore that ‘it also helps less democratic states justify their own abuses and lack of transparency.( The UK should set the highest standards, not continue on the slide towards the lowest).
Same: Donald (which one keep?) it will become harder for Britain to hold others to account for human rights abuses when our own government makes it more difficult for the courts to do the same to themselves’.
The public should:’Demand of their MPs to stop the bill; protest in all possible lawful ways; campaign; expose and explain what is at stake’.Said Sophie Farting concurring on this point, adding that it is important to make views known to MPs in light of the next election, and that public engagement is important for the effectiveness of democracy.