A SECRET Justice Bill could see people imprisoned without explanation, warned legal action charity Reprieve yesterday.

Reprieve said: ‘The government this week confirmed that plans for secret courts would extend to challenges against detention without charge or trial – known as habeas corpus proceedings.

‘This development would see “Closed Material Procedures” available in cases brought under habeas – the ancient legal freedom which safeguards against unlawful imprisonment by the state – with the result that the government could be able to detain members of the public, while keeping the reason for that detention secret.

‘The revelation – made with little fanfare during Wednesday evening’s House of Lords debate – is at odds with claims by members of the coalition that, under the Bill, nobody could “be imprisoned on the basis of evidence in closed proceedings”.

‘Should a habeas corpus challenge, made in closed proceedings, fail, the result could be that the prisoner concerned would remain in prison, without being given an explanation why.

‘Under Closed Material Procedures (CMPs), the government is able to use evidence in court which the other side is not allowed to challenge or even to see.

‘A significant advantage is thereby handed to the government, while serious damage is done to the principle of open and equal justice.

‘The Justice and Security Bill, currently at committee stage in the House of Lords, aims to extend CMPs across the civil justice system – including, as confirmed by Justice Minister Lord Wallace this week, habeas corpus proceedings.

‘Lord Wallace was responding to an amendment to the Bill put forward by Lord Thomas of Gresford, which would have prevented the use of CMP in “any action seeking a person’s release from detention”.

‘In opposing the amendment, Lord Wallace confirmed that CMP will extend to habeas corpus proceedings.’

Reprieve’s Executive Director, Clare Algar said: ‘This is a genuinely chilling development. For centuries, habeas corpus has been the ultimate safeguard against wrongful imprisonment by the state. This removes a key safeguard against a British Guantanamo.’

l Police chiefs have welcomed new powers to gather online communications data claiming it will make it easier to convict murderers and paedophiles.

The law enforcement chiefs were reluctant to divulge precise information about the data to which they sought access, offering to brief the committee on such details in private.

They were giving evidence to a committee of MPs and peers charged with scrutinising the Draft Communications Data Bill.

Rights group Liberty, which is due to give evidence on Tuesday, has condemned the Bill as a ‘Snoopers Charter’.

It warned that the Bill ‘proposes to increase the collection and storage of “communications data” – records of email, text and phone calls – for the entire population. . .

‘This amounts to mass, blanket, surveillance of the population outsourced to the private sector.’