Government 'just not listening' to widespread criticism of secret justice measures

‘The government has been deaf to criticism’ - Kate Allen

Ahead of the controversial Justice and Security Bill being debated in the House of Commons this week, Amnesty International has warned that the government is “just not listening” to widespread criticism of its proposed secret justice measures.

The Bill, which is set to be debated at Report Stage in the House of Commons tomorrow, has been heavily criticised since its inception - most recently by the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights and by a group of 702 lawyers - and Amnesty has strongly opposed measures in the Bill which would introduce unprecedented secrecy into civil court cases through the use of “closed material procedures”.

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.

Ken Clarke, the minister without portfolio who is responsible for the Bill, has claimed the legislation is necessary to allow civil cases concerning “national security” issues to proceed because otherwise the government would be “forced” to settle cases as it would be unable to defend itself without having to reveal sensitive material or working methods. However, Amnesty strongly rejects this claim, pointing out that there are already existing mechanisms which enable cases to proceed fairly while still ensuring sensitive material is protected, including by withholding names or through the use of confidentiality agreements.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“The government is just not listening to well-founded criticism of this dangerous and fundamentally unjust Bill and time is now running out to prevent secret justice becoming embedded in our law.

“Ken Clarke claims the alternative to his secret justice procedures is to abandon cases altogether, but this completely ignores a range of measures that courts already use which allow cases to proceed while also safeguarding sensitive material.

“If this Bill becomes law we will end up with victims of human rights violations being prevented from seeing secret evidence about their own case and even being prevented from talking to the lawyers who are supposedly representing their interests.

“The government has been deaf to criticism and is hell-bent on creating a very un-British secret justice system that could be straight from the pages of a Kafka novel.

“We’re calling on all MPs to take a fresh look at this Bill and reject it as an affront to justice.”

In October Amnesty published a 50-page report - Left In The Dark: the use of secret evidence in the United Kingdom - highly critical of the unprecedented growth in the use of secret justice measures in the UK in the last decade. The expansion was a “radical departure” from the basic requirements of fairness in civil and criminal cases, said the organisation.

View latest press releases