Ken wants closure

Justice secretary Ken Clarke suspected of caving in to US pressure on closed courts

Kenneth Clarke
Kenneth Clarke

The debate on secret justice ratcheted up a notch last week as lawyers and journalists condemned Government proposals to expand closed hearings.

Justice secretary Ken Clarke wants to alter the concept of open justice under perceived US pressure over our leaky courtrooms.

Clarke’s ’Justice and Security’ Green Paper seeks to widen the use of ’closed material procedure’ to civil cases and inquests where the Government thinks sensitive material would “damage the public interest” if disclosed.

At a Parliamentary meeting on 12 March Brick Court Chambers special advocate Martin Chamberlain, Doughty Street Chambers specialist inquest barrister Henrietta Hill and former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Lord Ken Macdonald QC, now at Matrix Chambers, pointed the finger of suspicion at the ’special relationship’.

In a week that saw Prime Minister David Cameron cosying up to US President Barack Obama, critics believe US concerns over security services’ intelligence being scrutinised in our open courts lie at the heart of the plans.

Macdonald said embarrassment over the case of Binyam Mohammed’s treatment at Guantanamo Bay had led to what he called a knee-jerk overreaction, a “disproportionate” agenda and an “audacious attack on our justice system”.

Legal experts, pressure groups and the media spoke with clarity and made a convincing case, but even as they warned ’beware concessions’, there was an obvious fear that the deciding votes had been cast and the door was already closed on open justice.

Sam Chadderton