THE ‘secret courts’ Justice and Security Bill places UK Security Services and Government Ministers ‘above the law,’ civil rights charities Reprieve and Liberty warned yesterday.
Refuting government claims that it had made ‘significant concessions’ by removing the ‘secret inquests’ side of the Bill, Reprieve warned that in fact, the Bill, which was published yesterday, is ‘designed to place our Security Services above the law and keep torture and rendition out of open court’.
The Bill will severely damage the ability of the public to hold the government and its agencies to account through the courts, Reprieve warned. The Bill ‘skews court proceedings heavily in favour of the Security Services, destroys the UK’s centuries-old tradition of open justice and will prevent serious state wrongdoing – such as torture – from ever again coming to light,’ said Reprieve.
Reprieve Executive Director Clare Algar said: ‘It is deeply worrying that our government’s response to its complicity in rendition and torture is not to strengthen our legal safeguards but to destroy them. This Bill will ensure that our Security Services never have to face an open court – or the scrutiny of the media or British tax-payers – even when they are mixed up in the most serious crimes.’
Liberty said: ‘Government plans for Secret Justice are even worse than first imagined and the removal of Inquests has given cover for the removal of judicial discretion over Public Interest Immunity (PII).
‘The ironically-titled Justice and Security Bill, published today, proposes to introduce the highly-flawed system of Closed Material Procedures (CMP) and Special Advocates into the ordinary civil law.
‘As a result, the Government would effectively be able to rely on secret evidence to defend serious allegations in any case where it feels disclosure might harm “the interests of national security”.
‘The claimant would not be shown such material or even be allowed in the Court – neither would their lawyer, the public or the press. Only the judge, the Government itself and the Government-appointed Special Advocate would be present.’
Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, said: ‘Not as spun but as published, this Bill would end equal open civil justice, putting ministers and securocrats above the law. Judges are made fig-leaves, robbed of their current Public Interest Immunity discretion and so effectively required to comply with Ministers’ desires for secrecy.
‘We knew the Bill would create a contest with one team permanently off the pitch. Now the farce is complete with a gun to the referee’s head.’