The Justice and Security Bill - has your MP responded to you?
Next week, MPs will debate the Government’s Justice and Security Bill in the House of Commons for the first time. The Government says the Bill is necessary to protect national security, we say it’s unnecessary and a risk to one of our most fundamental rights: the right to a fair and open hearing in a court of law.
If you’re new to the campaign, the Guardian have produced a handy guide to the Bill which may help you get your head around the issue. Or you can see our take on the Bill and take action to stop it here: Ask your MP to oppose the Justice and Security Bill
If you’ve already contacted your MP and they’ve replied to say they support secret courts, see below for what to do if your MP supports the Bill
House of Lords amendments – what they mean
Before it got to the House of Commons, the Bill passed through the House of Lords, where members voted through amendments to the Bill which would restrict the use of secret courts.
Their changes would give judges more oversight as to when secret justice should be used - rather than leaving this decision with the government, and would also require judges to balance the public interest against national security when deciding whether a case should be heard in a secret court.
If secret courts were to pass into law, we think – at a minimum – these safeguards should apply.
However, we still believe the only way to protect our right to a fair and open hearing in a court of law is for MPs to outright reject the Bill in its current form. If you haven’t yet taken action, please contact your MP today and ask them to oppose the Justice and Security Bill
Thank you to those of you who have already taken action. Some of you have been in touch to tell us your MP has said they support secret courts being use. If you’ve had such a reply, even if you MP only supports their use in limited circumstances, it would really help our campaign if you wrote back to tell them why you don’t agree.
We’ve prepared some text which you can use in your response, below, and you cna also download it at the bottom of the blog:
Thank you for your response to my email about the Justice and Security Bill. Unfortunately my concerns about the Bill have not been reduced because the government has still not made the case for the need for closed material procedures, which are fundamentally unfair.
The government’s reasoning that the current mechanism for cases involving security sensitive information (known as PII) has prevented cases from being heard is simply unjustified. The cases they refer to as examples of this – the Guantánamo cases in which they settled – do not adequately support their claim (see below) and they have been unable to provide examples of other cases which have not been able to proceed.
The government says that they were “forced” to settle the Guantanamo cases because there was no point in using PII as this would have excluded key elements of their defence from being considered.
This argument is flawed. If the government’s defence was truly so saturated with sensitive evidence that the case could not be fairly heard, why did the government not apply to the judge for the case to be struck out i.e. deem it impossible to hear? In fact, if the government had pursued PII in these cases and this had happened, they might have had a better case for the need to introduce alternative mechanisms for cases involving sensitive material. But the government did not apply for the cases to be struck out, they settled, before the PII process was even completed. It is clear that they did not exhaust existing mechanisms before deciding to settle; they were not forced to, they chose to. In reality the government has only provided one known example of a case being struck out because it contained too much sensitive material for it to be fairly heard, and this was not a case involving allegations of serious human rights violations, where principles of open justice and fairness are of the upmost importance.
The government has failed to provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the current and very flexible mechanisms for handling sensitive information in our courts are inadequate. In addition, the extension of CMPs would represent a fundamental departure from our current open, fair and transparent justice system. It should not be forgotten that Special Advocates, the very people who work within these procedures, have collectively stated that CMPs are “inherently unfair” and that the government has failed to provide compelling reasons to justify their extension. Indeed, Special Advocates say no such evidence exists.
I understand that the House of Lords amended the Bill to introduce certain safeguards to the use of secret courts, but this is only a small step towards ensuring principles of fair and open justice are protected. The bottom line is that secret courts are fundamentally unfair. The government has not demonstrated the need to extend them at all, even in the amended form passed by the House of Lords. At the very least the amendments should be retained in the House of Commons, but the only way to truly ensure the UK justice system isn’t fundamentally undermined, is to reject proposals for secret justice altogether. I urge you again, as my MP, to speak and vote against secret justice.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.