Fresh warnings on secret justice ahead of Lord's debate
‘It’s a secret justice system straight from the pages of a Kafka novel’ - Alice Wyss
Amnesty International is urging members of the House of Lords to reject secret justice measures contained in the controversial new Justice and Security bill due to be debated this week.
The bill, which is due for detailed “report stage” discussion in the House of Lords on 19 and 21 November, has been heavily criticised by Amnesty over proposals to allow so-called “closed material procedures” to be used in civil court cases (clauses 6-11, part two of the bill).
The moves could potentially mean that individuals and their lawyers who are seeking to establish the extent of the involvement of UK officials in serious wrongdoing such as torture and enforced disappearance, will be prevented from seeing crucial documents on “national security” grounds. This secrecy could be maintained potentially indefinitely, even if there is an overwhelming public interest in disclosure.
The UK government has claimed that the new measures are needed to allow sensitive cases to proceed, saying that otherwise cases will have to be struck out or settled out of court. However, this argument comes with little evidence and the government appears to be ignoring the fact that there are existing mechanisms to ensure sensitive material is protected while still allowing the case to proceed fairly, including by withholding names or through the use of confidentiality agreements. Amnesty is concerned that the governments’ primary intention may be to maintain secrecy, not to allow cases to be properly heard.
Amnesty International’s UK researcher Alice Wyss said:
“We’ve said repeatedly that the Justice and Security Bill is a real threat to the principles of fairness and open justice in the UK.
“Under the bill we’re likely to end up with evidence that is kept secret and lawyers that can’t talk to those they represent - it’s a secret justice system straight from the pages of a Kafka novel.
“A person who can credibly accuse the UK of responsibility over their torture, enforced disappearance or other human rights violation has a right to a fair and effective remedy. The public also has a right to know the truth about whether and how the government has been involved.
“The bill seems designed to allow the government to throw a cloak of secrecy over wrongdoing. We want the House of Lords to reject secret justice and stand up for the principle that justice needs to be done and seen to be done.”
Last month Amnesty published a 50-page report - Left In The Dark: the use of secret evidence in the United Kingdom - which was highly critical of the unprecedented growth in the use of secret justice measures in the UK in the last decade. The expansion was as a “radical departure” from the basic requirements of fairness in civil and criminal cases, said the organisation.