Queen's Speech: warning that secrecy Bill is 'sell-out' to security forces

‘These proposals are dangerous and should be dropped’ - Tara Lyle

Responding to an announcement in today’s Queen’s Speech that the government will bring forward a Bill to allow new secret justice measures, Amnesty International UK Policy Adviser Tara Lyle said:

“These proposals are dangerous and should be dropped.

“They will allow the government to throw a cloak of secrecy over wrongdoing, including matters as serious as the alleged involvement by UK officials in human rights violations like rendition, secret detention and torture.

“After David Cameron promised to get to the bottom of allegations of complicity in human rights violations by UK officials, this Bill is a sell-out to the security services.

“The victims of human rights abuses as well as the general public have a right to learn the truth about whether and how government officials have been involved in human rights violations like rendition, secret detention and torture.

“If members of the intelligence and security services are suspected of involvement in human right violations, the government should not be able to invoke ‘national security’ to avoid real accountability.”

The proposals for the Bill - as set out in last year’s Justice and Security Green Paper - come after a recent civil action for damages brought by a number of individuals who alleged that the UK had been involved in their rendition, unlawful detention and mistreatment. The proposed legal changes will allow the use of “closed material procedures” in future civil claims cases. This can involve excluding the parties to the case and their lawyers and their replacement by an appointed “special advocate” who is supposed to represent their interests. The majority of special advocates who have appeared in these types of proceedings in other contexts have denounced the proposals.

Whilst Amnesty recognises that the government could lawfully restrict disclosure of information in some circumstance - such as where this would put the lives or safety of identifiable individuals at risk - the organisation believes that the government’s broad proposals will fail to ensure that victims of alleged human rights violations receive an effective remedy and may undermine their right to a fair trial. The proposed measures also depart from traditional common law standards of fairness and open justice, says Amnesty, and will allow the government to avoid proper scrutiny of its human rights record.

Amnesty has previously made a submission to the government of its concerns and has also given written and oral evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the issue.

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