Supreme Court hears military negligence claim in open – possibly for the last time

February 19, 2013

Claims that Government negligence lead to the deaths of soldiers being heard by the Supreme Court today could in future be held in secret courts, should the Justice and Security Bill receive Parliament’s backing.

The Supreme Court is currently hearing a case brought by the relatives of soldiers who argue that their loved ones died because of the MoD’s failure to provide adequate military vehicles.

However, Ken Clarke has confirmed that such claims could in future be pushed into secret courts known as ‘Closed Material Procedures’ (CMPs) on the grounds of ‘national security,’ should his plans – currently before the House of Commons – pass Parliament.

Under the plans for CMPs, ministers would be able to exclude their opponents, along with the press and the public, from court altogether.  This would leave ministers able to present their case free of challenge from the other side, handing them a massive advantage and allowing them to hide embarrassing evidence from public view.

Mr Clarke confirmed to the House of Commons last December that it would be possible for the MoD to use secret courts where negligence claims were brought against them by Forces families.  The Government also recently amended the Justice and Security Bill to enable ministers to use CMPs in the Supreme Court.

Clare Algar, Executive Director of legal action charity Reprieve said: “This may well be the last time that we are able to see public reporting of a case such as this.  Should plans for secret courts pass Parliament, ministers will be able to shut such cases away from public view by claiming ‘national security’ is involved.  This would be quite wrong in cases of this nature, and would enable ministers to stop their dirty laundry being aired in public.  It must be a wake-up call for any MP who is considering supporting the dangerous proposals in the Secret Courts Bill.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8166 / donald.campbell [AT] reprieve.org.uk

2. The details of the case before the Supreme Court can be found here: http://www.supremecourt.gov.uk/current-cases/CCCaseDetails/case_2013_0028.html

3. In December 2012, Ken Clarke – the minister responsible for the Justice and Security Bill – confirmed that CMPs could be used in military negligence cases: “If a soldier was killed and it was alleged that that was the result of some actionable negligence…I cannot rule out a CMP application being made.” http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm121218/debtext/121218-0001.htm#12121850001140

4. The Government amended the Justice and Security Bill in the House of Lords in order to extend its provisions all the way up to the Supreme Court – see Clause 6, subsection 11 (d): http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2012-2013/0134/cbill_2012-20130134_en_2.htm#pt2-pb1-l1g6