Government creating ‘straitjacket’ for judges with secret courts Bill, warn legal experts

June 26, 2012

Expert lawyers today warned that the Government’s controversial plans for secret courts would create a “statutory straitjacket” for judges – contradicting ministers’ claims that judges will always have the “final decision” over the use of closed procedures.

Special Advocate Martin Chamberlain made the warning while giving evidence to Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights on the Justice and Security Bill, which is currently before the House of Lords.

The Bill proposes to roll out “Closed Material Procedures” (CMPs) across the civil justice system, which would see the citizen excluded from their own case while the Government is able to present evidence against them which they cannot even see, let alone challenge. Fellow Special Advocate Angus McCullough QC added that “the judge is not getting to decide whether this is a case that can fairly be tried using PII,” referring to the existing system of Public Interest Immunity.

Both Special Advocates warned that under the Bill, there would be “no balance” made by the judge between the Government’s claims of “national security” on the one hand and fairness to the citizen on the other. The evidence given by the Special Advocates – who are the very lawyers who would work within the Government’s proposed expansion of secret courts – undermines justice ministers’ claims that the Bill will provide a “fairer outcome.”

Commenting, Reprieve’s Executive Director, Clare Algar said: “This must surely sink once and for all the Government’s claims that judges will have the final decision on secret courts. The reality is that ministers will be able to push cases into secret whenever it suits them, leaving judges as little more than a glorified rubber stamp. This will effectively put the Government above the law. Secret courts will make it near impossible for ordinary citizens to challenge the state over serious wrongdoing.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: 020 7427 1082 / donald.campbell@reprieve.org.uk

2. Special Advocates Martin Chamberlain and Angus McCullough QC, and barrister Ben Jaffey were giving evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights in Parliament this afternoon. The hearing can be watched here: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=11060

3. Justice Secretary Ken Clarke’s claim that the Bill “gives the judge the final decision” and Justice Minister Lord Wallace’s claim that it “provide a fairer outcome” have been reported here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2012/may/29/secret-courts-justice-security-bill

4. Further background on the Bill can be found here: http://reprieve.org.uk/investigations/secret_justice