THE government’s Green Paper for bringing secret evidence before closed courts into the justice system was condemned by both civil rights charity Reprieve and the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights yesterday.
LibDem deputy PM Clegg’s urgings that a judge rather than a politician should decided when secret evidence and closed trials should occur, were scorned by Reprieve’s Executive Director, Clare Algar.
She said: ‘Nick Clegg’s intervention does not go nearly far enough. The simple fact is that closed courts are inherently unfair.
‘What the government is proposing is a system in which they can use whatever evidence they like against the citizen, but the citizen is unable to challenge or even to see that evidence.
‘This is unacceptable in any circumstances.
‘The Green Paper seeks to address a “problem” which simply does not exist – as the Joint Committee on Human Rights has said, there is a “troubling lack of evidence” to support the government’s claims.
‘Tinkering around the edges will not be enough. These plans would put the government above the law, and must be dropped altogether.
‘Our current system is working well, and judges have always been extremely deferential to the government on matters of national security.
‘Yet it appears that our Security Services are attempting to undermine our justice system because they are unwilling to be held accountable in a court of law.’
The cross-party Joint Committee on Human Rights also condemned the government’s proposals, warning:
• ‘Absolute statutory exemption from disclosure for material of a certain class can never be proportionate.’
• ‘It is regrettable 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. This is a serious omission.
‘The role of the media in holding the government to account and upholding the rule of law is a vital aspect of the principle of open justice, as has been amply demonstrated in the decade since 9/11.
‘We are also concerned about the impact of the proposals on public trust and confidence in the courts.’
• The committee also referred to a comment by the former director of public prosecutions, Lord Macdonald: ‘I don’t think we should allow foreign intelligence agencies to dictate how we organise our justice system.’
But Justice Secretary Clarke insisted yesterday that the government is proceeding with the legislation, saying: ‘The problem is, you can’t have your British intelligence officers, giving evidence in open court’.
Clarke claimed: ‘I don’t feel under immense American pressure’ to change the law to closed proceedings.
But he added: ‘I can’t force the Americans to give our intelligence people full cooperation, if they fear our courts, they won’t give us information.’