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Tomorrow's Commons debate on Justice & Security bill a 'key moment for open justice'

The truth in rendition cases could be ‘buried’ by new law

‘It’s a secret justice system straight from the pages of a Kafka novel’ - Kate Allen

Amnesty International is warning that tomorrow’s debate in the House of Commons on the government’s Justice and Security bill is a “key moment in the battle” to ensure that the principles of fairness and open justice “remain as cornerstones” of the UK’s justice system.

Amnesty is urging MPs to reject measures in the bill which would 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 cases concerning national security to proceed, saying that otherwise cases will have to be struck out or settled out of court.

Last week it was announced that the government was to make an out-of-court financial settlement to the Libyan national Sami al-Saadi, relating to his claim that he was subject to rendition from Hong Kong to Libya with the involvement of UK officials. His case is also the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation. Amnesty is calling for the serious allegations in the Al-Saadi case - as well as several other allegations of UK involvement in human rights violations of individual detained overseas - to be the subject of a full “human rights-compliant” inquiry, but is also warning that future cases could be “buried” by the proposed secret justice measures.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“Tomorrow’s debate is a key moment in the battle to ensure that the principles of fairness and open justice remain as cornerstones of the UK’s justice system.

“The bill will allow the government to throw a cloak of secrecy over wrongdoing. We want MPs to reject secret justice and stand up for the principle that justice needs to be done and seen to be done.

“If the bill becomes law we’ll end up with evidence kept secret and lawyers kept from talking to those they represent - a secret justice system straight from the pages of a Kafka novel. Key evidence could be buried forever.

“A person who can credibly accuse the UK of responsibility for their torture, enforced disappearance or other human rights violations has a right to a fair hearing and effective remedy. The public also has a right to know the truth about whether and how the government has been involved.”

Meanwhile, commenting on the recent Sami al-Saadi case, Ms Allen said:

“Sami al-Saadi’s case is a reminder of the urgent need for a proper inquiry into the UK’s involvement in rendition. The government must ensure real accountability and truth for the victims, their families and the general public.”

Amnesty strongly believes the government’s argument that cases will not be able to proceed because of the risk of revealing sensitive material or working methods 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 governments’ 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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