Mike Morgan-Giles reports on government plans for ‘secret courts’, and the use of secret evidence, on the grounds of “national security”.
“Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done” – these were the wise words of Gordon Hewart, the seventh Lord Chief Justice of England, back in 1924. It’s a phrase known and understood by many, and for good reason.
And yet the justice secretary, Ken Clarke, supposedly a more liberal member of the Cabinet, appears ready to abandon such a reasonable principle of law.
The Ministry of Justice has recently published a green paper (pdf) on using secret evidence to defend itself without making the evidence public, with the argument that doing so would threaten national security.
David Davis MP, the former shadow home secretary, however, points out that such an approach is a “fundamental failure of justice”, associated with regimes such as North Korea.
Ironically, the government’s own impact assessment (pdf) on introducing the secret evidence proposals states it could 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.”
While the government will continue to maintain the proposals are to protect the methods spies use to protect our national security, another reason is far more likely. Rather more so is the likelihood that the UK and/or its allies are illegally failing to uphold human rights in their interrogation techniques and want to cover these practices up.
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“…will not stop these abuses from happening – rather it will simply help to cover them up when they do.”
Ken Clarke cited the case of Binyam Mohamed as someone who had successfully sued because evidence could not be provided to oppose his claims. However, as files obtained by Wikileaks showed, evidence against Mr Mohamed was obtained by waterboarding and he himself signed a confession under duress.
“…a fundamental departure from our common law principles.”
More worryingly, though, the government impact assessment (pdf) went on to add the proposals could lead to the public having:
“… resentment or a reduction in confidence in court processes… and unwillingness to participate in jury service.”
So in less than two years it appears the legal system on which people came to rely upon is being systematically dismantled, with the proposed cutting of the legal aid budget another feature of the worrying changes.
It appears we are reaching an era where the poor and vulnerable have less and less protection under the law, whilst the rich maintain the ability to pay for the best legal support money can buy.
For justice to continue to be seen to be done – and indeed public confidence to be maintained – these North Korean style proposals must be consigned to the shredder.