A report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has condemned the Government’s ‘secret justice’ proposals, claiming they are a “radical departure” from British legal principles.
MPs sitting on the JCHR have attacked Justice Secretary Ken Clarke’s Green Paper, which proposes extending the use of closed hearings to civil proceedings and inquests to allow the security services to disclose confidential intelligence information in court.
Last month, The Lawyer reported on an all party parliamentary meeting (14 March 2012) at which members, lawyers and journalists debated the reasoning behind the proposals and called for them to be dropped.
The JCHR report said: “The committee regrets that the Green Paper overlooks the very considerable impact of its proposals on the freedom and ability of the media to report on matters of public interest and concern. It is also concerned about the possible impact of the proposals on public confidence and trust in both the Government and the courts.”
Committee chair Hywel Francis, the Labour MP for Aberavon, said he was “troubled” that Clarke “did not seem to think that the proposals in the Green Paper were as radical a departure from our longstanding traditions of open justice and fairness as I, the committee and many others believe them to be”.
He added: “Closed material procedures are inherently unfair and the Government has failed to show that extending their use might in some instances contribute to greater fairness.”
At the parliamentary meeting Doughty Street Chambers specialist inquest barrister Henrietta Hill spoke on behalf of charity campaigners INQUEST of a lack of business case for closed hearings.
Speaking to The Lawyer today, she called on the Government to abandon the proposals on the back of the “detailed, devastating critique” from the JCHR.
Hill said: “The JCHR has engaged in a very thorough analysis and is much more measured than the Green Paper. It makes clear that there’s no case for extending closed material procedures to inquests, it is contrary to common law and Article 2 and there are different reforms which could deal with the perceived problem.
“I hope the Government will listen to the very real concerns expressed by the JCHR and abandon these proposals as far as inquests are concerned – as the Labour government did twice – in the face of massive public pressure and this detailed, devastating critique.”
Critics of the Justice and Security Green Paper say the issue has arisen since the Government was forced to grant out-of-court settlements to Guantanamo Bay detainees, and that the perception that the US is putting pressure on the UK because it believes the British legal system ’leaks’ intelligence in open court is misguided.