Government secret justice plans may cost millions and endanger security, warns Ministry of Justice

March 5, 2012

The Government’s own assessment of its plans for secret courts has warned that they could cost an extra £11 million every year, and lead to a “higher risk of potential security breaches.”

The warnings are contained in an Impact Assessment of the Government’s plans to roll out secret proceedings across the civil justice system, buried on an obscure part of the Cabinet Office website – which also states that the plans may lead to “a reduction in confidence in court processes.”

The document was produced by the Government to assess its own policy, the Justice and Security Green Paper, which proposes extending Closed Material Procedures (CMPs) across the civil courts whenever ministers have concerns that “sensitive material might be involved.” Such a move would lead to a massive extension of secrecy in the British justice system, and make it much more difficult to hold the Government to account for a wide range of abuses, such as complicity in rendition and torture.

The document states that:
The introduction of CMPs could have a net cost of as much as £11m each year, since “the savings from [the current system of Public Interest Immunity] are not judged to be significant enough to outweigh the costs of the CMPs over the next decade” (pp19, 27) Introduction of CMPs may lead to a “Higher risk of potential security breaches due to a larger number of individuals accessing sensitive information [and] any potential breaches may impose substantial costs to UK security.” (p12) The proposals may “[lead] to resentment or a reduction in confidence in court processes” (p2) “and unwillingness to participate in jury service” (p11).
Reprieve’s Executive Director, Clare Algar said:

“This shows just how ill-considered the Government’s secret justice plans are – even the Ministry of Justice’s own assessment is warning that they will damage our justice system. On top of this, they may end up costing us more and harming national security – the precise opposite of what ministers have claimed they intend to achieve.

“These plans would wreck our justice system, and put politicians and officials above the law. Ministers clearly have not thought this through – they must now listen to reason and change course.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 427 1082 – or see Reprieve’s website for background on the Green Paper: http://reprieve.org.uk/investigations/secret_justice

2. The Impact Assessment for the Justice and Security Green Paper can be found here: http://consultation.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/justiceandsecurity/wp-content/uploads/2011/impact-assessment.pdf

3. The following compares Justice Secretary Ken Clarke’s claims for what the proposals will achieve, with what the Impact Assessment warns:

Justification: security

KEN CLARKE: “[We] seek to produce a system whereby our public and our allies can be reassured that these matters will be handled sensitively in this country. People will share intelligence with us knowing that it will be used properly, will not be misused and will not be disclosed in areas where it would do damage.”

IMPACT ASSESSMENT: Introduction of CMPs may lead to a “Higher risk of potential security breaches due to a larger number of individuals accessing sensitive information [and] any potential breaches may impose substantial costs to UK security.” (p12)

Justification: cost

KC: “The present situation is wholly unsatisfactory. The Guantanamo Bay case, which we settled recently, showed exactly what can go wrong. I had to come to the House to announce that we had paid out a total of £20 million, together with costs, because we had ceased to defend the action.”

IA: Introduction of CMPs expected to have a net impact of £0 – but could cost as much as £11m p.a. (p19)

Justification: fairness

KC: “The Green Paper seeks ways to increase both judicial and other independent scrutiny of such matters to unprecedented levels without undermining protection of the public and whilst maintaining strong safeguards for the rights of individuals.”

IA: the proposals may “[lead] to resentment or a reduction in confidence in court processes” (p2) “and unwillingness to participate in jury service” (p11).

Ken Clarke’s statement on the Green Paper, from which these quotes are taken, can be found here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm111019/debtext/111019-0001.htm#11101946000003