Justice Bill changes not enough to quell concerns

The Government is threatening to undermine fundamentally UK traditions of open justice with proposed new laws, civil liberty campaigners have claimed ahead of proposed legislation.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke published his new Justice and Security Bill, claiming the proposals were substantially improved from those which went out to consultation last year.

The Bill creates rules to hear evidence in secret, known as closed material proceedings (CMP), but only in civil court cases where national security is a factor.

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Inquests have been removed from the CMP remit in a concession to campaigners opposed to the idea – but the Bill has still been widely attacked.

Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti 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 (PII) 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.”

A spokesman said: “Liberty said the plans were worse than had been expected, claiming that the removal of inquests from secret evidence rules had covered other changes by the Government.

“The campaign group said that, under the proposals, the current system of hearing sensitive material via the use of PII would be effectively replaced with controversial CMP.

“Under the Bill, the Secretary of State would be able to apply to the court for a declaration that CMP should be allowed. The court would then be required to grant the application in any case where it considered that the Secretary of State would be required to make a disclosure damaging to the interests of national security.”

Liberty said the court is specifically ordered to disregard the possibility of protecting sensitive evidence under PII in doing so, making the judicial trigger a “complete fig leaf”.

Amnesty International’s UK researcher Alice Wyss said: “We still need to carefully examine the details of the Bill but our concerns still stand: that the Bill will allow the Government to throw a cloak of secrecy over wrongdoing including the alleged involvement by UK officials in rendition, secret detention and torture.”

Mr Clarke yesterday said the plans had been improved following consultations.