Reprieve is dismayed by today’s High Court judgment allowing evidence of government collusion in torture to be heard in special secret courts.

November 18, 2009

In an alarming decision, Mr Justice Silber has approved in principle the introduction of a new category of ‘secret evidence’ to be used in civil trials, including that detailing the illegal detention and torture of British citizens and residents.

The evidence in question, which may implicate the UK government in crimes committed against Binyam Mohamed, Bisher Al Rawi and others, forms part of a civil compensation lawsuit launched by six men against the Secret Services and other government bodies.

Secret hearings provide the government with a convenient alternative to the Public Interest Immunity Certificate system, under which the need for secrecy must be proven to outweigh public interest according to strictly prescribed criteria.

Under the new system, claimants would be prevented from knowing evidence against them, while journalists and members of the public would be barred from witnessing the proceedings in court.

Crucially, unlike the PII system, the party withholding evidence from the other side would still be allowed to rely on the ‘secret evidence’ in proving their case. In civil claims such as those against the State, this skews the process towards the Government because the burden of proof rests with the claimant. A closed evidence procedure would mean that claimants like Binyam Mohamed would have one, if not both, hands tied behind their backs.

Reprieve’s Executive Director Clare Algar said:

“The Government’s latest attempt to cover up torture evidence will not sit well with an already mistrustful British public. It is a cornerstone of our legal system that justice must be seen to be done. When will our government learn that it is not above the law?”

Sapna Malik, Partner at Leigh Day & Co. representing Binyam Mohamed, said:

“We are naturally very disappointed that Mr Justice Silber did not see fit to put a halt to the encroachment of secret trials being entertained by the English courts. The point of principle is hugely important, further tipping the scales away from an equality of arms in legal claims against the state and we will be vigorously appealing against this decision in the Court of Appeal and, if necessary, all the way up to the Supreme Court.”

Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith said:

“It is a sad day when the workings of British justice are shuttered away in secret hearings with access limited to a privileged few. We hope the Court of Appeal will see sense and that the British public will not tolerate justice done in their name when they cannot bear witness to it.”

For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office katherine.oshea@reprieve.org.uk 020 7427 1099/ 07931592674.

Notes for Editors:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 33 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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