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Government set to 'roll back even minimal amendments' in Justice and Security Bill

‘If this Bill becomes law we will end up with … a secret justice system straight from the pages of a Kafka novel’ - Kate Allen

Amnesty International is warning that the government is set to roll back even minimal amendments in the current Justice and Security Bill, which is set to be considered by the House of Commons tomorrow.

Amendments described by Amnesty as “minimal and in themselves deeply unsatisfactory” were added to the controversial Bill by the House of Lords last year.

Current proposals from the government ahead of tomorrow’s “Committee” stage of the Bill’s passage through the House of Commons indicate that the government is determined to reject some of these amendments and insert other damaging provisions in their place. 

Amnesty is deeply disappointed with the government’s position, particularly given the Deputy Prime Minister’s expression of sympathy with the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ recommendations for numerous amendments to be made to the Bill, some of which are now set to be reversed by the government.

Amnesty is urging MPs to reject the Bill in its entirety, as the legislation would allow so-called “closed material procedures” to be used in civil court cases. Even if the Lords’ amendments were retained, warned Amnesty, the Bill would still allow the government to rely on secret evidence in civil cases in a way that would be fundamentally incompatible with the right to a fair trial and the right to an effective remedy.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“The government is set to introduce damaging proposals to the already unfair and unjust secrecy measures proposed in the Justice and Security Bill.

“These proposals are an attempt to roll back even the minimal, and in themselves deeply unsatisfactory, amendments made when the Bill was before the Lords.

“There was some hope that, given the defeats suffered in the Lords, the government would pay heed to widespread criticism of the Bill, but instead they seem intent on forcing through these unprecedented secrecy measures.

“If this Bill becomes law we will end up with victims of human rights violations being prevented from seeing secret evidence against them and even being prevented from talking to their own lawyers - a secret justice system straight from the pages of a Kafka novel.

“We are calling on all MPs to reject the Bill as an affront to justice.”

Amnesty rejects the government’s argument that cases will not be able to proceed because of the risk of revealing sensitive material or working methods, pointing out that this claim is based on very little evidence. The government appears to have dismissed the fact that there are already 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 government’s primary intention may be to maintain secrecy, not to allow cases to be properly heard.

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.

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