How the government plans to create a system of closed, secret justice


11:20 am - March 22nd 2012

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contribution by Donald Campbell

Imagine a Britain in which vast swathes of Government activity have withdrawn into the shadows. From the Ministry of Defence to the Home Office, any attempt to hold politicians or bureaucrats to account for their failures or wrongdoing becomes near-impossible.

A secret court system, closed to the view of the public and the press, and skewed hopelessly in favour of the Government, stands between the citizen and the state.

For the soldier injured as a result of shoddy equipment, for the victim of rendition and torture, or for the citizens failed by those parts of the state which are meant to keep them safe, the ways of legal redress are shut.

This is where we could end up, should new plans for a vast expansion of secret justice be allowed to slip past Parliament.

The proposals were set out in a largely-unnoticed consultation document, released with little fanfare towards the end of last year. It is called the Justice and Security Green Paper, and it puts forward plans to roll out ‘Closed Material Procedures’ (CMPs) across the civil justice system.

But hiding behind a raft of bland, technical language is an alarming assault on the fundamental principle of British justice: that you should be able to hear, and to challenge, the case that is being made against you.

This simple but crucial right would no longer exist in a legal world dominated by CMPs. In these, once the minister has made the call that there is ‘sensitive’ material involved, the court goes into lockdown, and the citizen (along with the media) is excluded – as a result, they will simply not know what claims the Government is making about them.

In response, ministers will point to the ‘Special Advocate,’ a security-cleared lawyer who is allowed into the closed court to make the case for the client. What they’re less likely to mention is that Special Advocate and client are not allowed to talk to one another.

It is little wonder that even the Special Advocates themselves, the very lawyers who work within this secret system, have been highly critical of the plans, warning the Government that CMPs are “fundamentally unfair”.

On top of this, ministers propose to simply do away with the legal principle through which we first found out about Britain’s involvement in the rendition and torture of Binyam Mohamed.

In short, the Green Paper will make it easier to cover up the state’s human rights abuses; harder to hold ministers to account for their mistakes; and impossible for ordinary citizens to hear crucial accusations being made against them by the Government.

That is why legal action charity Reprieve, along with other NGOs, is calling on people to raise this issue with their MPs, in order to stop what Lord Macdonald, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, has called an “audacious attack on the fundamental principle of British justice.”

If this issue does not receive the scrutiny it deserves, we risk sleepwalking into a system of secret justice.


Donald Campbell is the Communications Officer at Reprieve.

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Reader comments


1. Chaise Guevara

Joe McCarthy tells me he’s all for it.

Finally, a piece on LC that I wholeheartedly support.

I’ve known about this for some time and I’m still wavering between whether we hang or shoot the bastards that came up with it all.

I would certainly never vote for any MP that voted for the bill. Would be a complete deal breaker.

Do you remember the pathetic sight of Davis the tory rights big white dope plodding about the country espousing the wonders of Magna Catar?

Or all the usual tory hypocrites like Guido Falks crying out “Stalin state ” and “police state” when New Labour was carrying out it’s latest orders from Washington. I even remember when tory front benchers would go on Newsnight and say we should stand up to the US and not just go along with everything they demand.

And then these charlatans got into govt and carried on exactly the same. But then they told us there would be no top down change to to the NHS. That we are all in it together. These pieces of scum have taken lying to a new level of deceit.

I heard about this last week. Apparently Ken Clarke was shocked at the vehemence of the opposition from barristers who act as representatives of people accused under the current system of secret justice. (The system does not allow them to see their clients once the evidence has been presented to them.)

I understand that there is great concern that the rules of justice will be effectively determined by ministers under the new proposals. We know how they put the law and justice at the top of their priority list, don’t we?

I’m glad this piece has been posted, it’s very important.

The bastards who came up with it are the us govt who did not take kindly to having it’s various renditions and torture policies revealed by UK court disclosures. So once again we must become the 51st state of the US.

Be fascinating to see how the Lib Dems vote on this. I fear there will be enough new labour lackeys to get it through.

Just in time for the Iran war,.

6. Chaise Guevara

@ 4 Cherub

I’m honestly surprised that Ken Clark’s supporting this. Doesn’t seem his style.

Normally when people bring up the Court of Star Chamber it’s hyperbole, but this proposal fits it to a tee. Parliament had to go to war against the crown to abolish the last one (well, to make the abolition stick) – who’s going to battle Parliament to prevent this one?

That’s what the original human rights act was designed to stop. It was never so that it was a human right to watch TV in prison or something stupid like that. The human right act was to ensure that the individual had more rights than the state.

9. Andrew Duffin

Where’s the EU on this?

The possibilities seem to be (a) it’s in favour, and in fact this is just the imposition of an EU directive without admitting it – in which case it’ll go through regardless, and we’re all wasting our breath, or (b) it’s against – in which case some interesting legal challenges await.

Anyone know the answer?

10. Robin Levett

@Tim Worstall #2:

I’ve known about this for some time and I’m still wavering between whether we hang or shoot the bastards that came up with it all.

Why decide?

It was never so that it was a human right to watch TV in prison or something stupid like that.

I suspect you’re alluding to a myth about human rights legislation that prisoners have a right to watch TV.

The possibilities seem to be (a) it’s in favour, and in fact this is just the imposition of an EU directive without admitting it – in which case it’ll go through regardless, and we’re all wasting our breath, or (b) it’s against – in which case some interesting legal challenges await.

I don’t think it’s an EU directive. It’s been something growing in Westminister since at least 1996/97.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/cmconst/323/32307.htm

“How the government plans to create a system of closed, secret justice”

Sounds like the familiy courts.

14. Robin Levett

@ad #13:

“How the government plans to create a system of closed, secret justice”

Sounds like the familiy courts.

Only if you have a tin ear.

15. Charlieman

I am not enamoured by the OP’s writing style. Readers endure four paragraphs of scene setting before we get to the meat of the argument. Please don’t try your hand at pulp fiction, Donald Campbell. The meat contains enough to arouse any liberal but it isn’t delivered quickly enough.

This will make politicians totally unaccountable and totally above the law.

This will be an open license to commit criminal acts that makes Government and politicians no different to the Mafia.

It is no wonder that Cameron wants to leave/get out of the human rights act.

I’m sure the innocent have nothing to fear.

18. douglas clark

Maybe I’m wrong about this but the presumption should always be that the government, any government, is in the wrong. If we proceed from that premise then there will be embarrassments for all governments, but we’ll learn to live with the fact that no-one is perfect.

This whole idea should be struck down.

The problem with governance is it’s self serving arrogance. We have lost sight of the idea that they should fear us, not us them.

Imagine a Britain in which vast swathes of Government activity have withdrawn into the shadows. From the Ministry of Defence to the Home Office, any attempt to hold politicians or bureaucrats to account for their failures or wrongdoing becomes near-impossible.

Hey, wait a sec–I thought that we’d already been running that system for at least half a century…?

I’m sure the innocent have nothing to fear.

Why?

21. Shatterface

Maybe I’m wrong about this but the presumption should always be that the government, any government, is in the wrong. If we proceed from that premise then there will be embarrassments for all governments, but we’ll learn to live with the fact that no-one is perfect.

Substitute ‘authority’ for ‘government’ and I’m with you. The issue is more fundamental than just the State; any use of power should be assumed to be unjustified until proven otherwise. The onus should always be on the powerful to justify that power.

I’ve known about this for some time and I’m still wavering between whether we hang or shoot the bastards that came up with it all.

Well, those who initiated this are no longer in power: Its Blaire’s approach to terrorism extended to those suspected of ‘ordinary’ crimes, just as some of us predicted.

Chaise,

I’m honestly surprised that Ken Clark’s supporting this. Doesn’t seem his style.

What, it doesn’t seem the style of a ‘liberal’, big-government, benevolent state centrist? Really?

It is not a surprise that a man who believes there is an important role for government in most aspects of public life supports this – because if government is important, the work of government is important; if public justice gets in the way of the work of government, then public justice is getting in the way of something important. It is simply valuing the work of government over the need for a fair and public system of justice – the same mistake as made by numerous tyrants…

This is not evil thinking, but it is wrong-headed, seeing government as something of importance in its own right, rather than a service. Technically the surprise is seeing some supporters of big government on here opposing these measures, but in all honesty at least most on the left believe in freedom, even if I disagree with how you may want to structure that. Ken Clarke has never really believed in freedom – he is an old-school Conservative (a proper Tory if you like) who believes in paternalistic government. I would be interested to see how many of the Labour party MPs (generally also paternalists) are truly opposed to these measures.

Incidentally, I wouldn’t bet on these getting approved – I could see an effective cross-party alliance against these (the awkward and new Conservatives, the true Liberal Democrats and the more in-touch Labour MPs).

23. Chaise Guevara

@ 22 Watchman

Well, it certainly doesn’t seem like the style of a liberal.

I was thinking more that Clarke, in my experience, has generally seemed to have a genuine and personal interest in justice, rather than chasing public opinion or trying to empower the state.

I’m sure the innocent have nothing to fear.

Why?

It’s called irony, UKLiberty.

I’m certain that everyone should fear this green paper that has been given the Newspeak title of the Justice and Security Green Paper. Not least because our masters will only see this as a milestone on the road to complete unaccountability and full control of the non-political classes.

The only real hope is that at some point they will overreach themselves and so impact people’s lives that we end up with a “London Spring” and the whole rotten system is brought tumbling down. No solution will come from within parliament because no party is standing up for justice and freedom.

Magna Carta did indeed die in vain. (Tony Hancock for those of you not as old as me)

25. douglas clark

Shatterface @ 21,

I accept your ammendment :-)

26. the a&e charge nurse

[24] indeed, Doc Bud, Hancock did warn us in ‘The 12 Angry Men’ – has there ever been a better Galton & Simpson sketch?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNZosqiJISs


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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  73. sunny hundal

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