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UK: Supreme Court upholds open justice- for now

The highest court in the UK today ruled in the case of Al-Rawi that secret evidence cannot be used in trials of civil damages claims in the absence of statutory power to do so.

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said:

“Open justice is a fundamental aspect of our judicial system. The Supreme Court rightly underlined this today in their ruling. The government should abandon its attempts to introduce greater secrecy into British courts.

“The state shouldn’t hide behind a wall of secrecy where allegations of human rights abuse are concerned, but this is increasingly what they are trying to do. The public and the alleged victims have a right to know the truth about human rights violations.

“We cannot allow governments to avoid public scrutiny and accountability for human rights abuses simply by invoking broad notions of ‘national security’”.

“Only last week, the terms and conditions of the Detainee Inquiry made clear that the government wants to have the final say over what evidence will be made public. The government must not be allowed to hide from the public the truth about the UK's involvement in human rights violations overseas.

“A Green Paper on secret evidence is expected soon, which must take seriously the principles of open justice and fairness emphasised today by the Supreme Court.”

The civil claim concerned former Guantánamo Bay detainees, all UK nationals or UK residents who were seeking damages from the UK government on the basis that British intelligence agencies were complicit in their detention, torture and other mistreatment. Though the claims were settled in November 2010, the UK government appealed to the Supreme Court in an attempt to overturn a previous ruling by the Court of Appeal on the point of principle that the government could not rely on secret evidence in civil claims for damages, and to permit such a procedure would contravene fundamental principles of fair trial in the common law.

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