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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Government need to think again on secret courts

UK Government plans to introduce secret courts for certain cases has come under fire again with the Parliamentary Human Rights committee saying that it remains unconvinced that closed material procedures are necessary in civil cases, whilst at the same time more than 700 legal professionals insisted the plans were “dangerous and unnecessary” in an open letter.

The Independent reports that the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) criticised the government for failing to include some of its proposed safeguards and urged it to think again:

Its report condemned the fact that it had not introduced a condition that CMPs should only be used as a “last resort” or that the need for fair and open administration should be balanced with national security issues. It also called on the government to offer a fairer level playing field by giving its opposition some indication of what secret material was being withheld.

While welcoming some amendments to the Bill, the committee’s chairman Dr Hywel Francis MP said they did not go far enough: “We remain sympathetic to the problems faced by the Government in dealing with sensitive material, but the Bill as drafted does not put in place sufficiently robust safeguards to oversee the exercise of what are very wide-ranging powers....We urge the Government to think again and make sure that secret proceedings are used only in cases of pressing national security need, and are the last possible resort.”

Meanwhile 700 legal figures, including 38 leading QCs, wrote an open letter to the Daily Mail warning that the Justice and Security Bill would “fatally undermine” the fairness of court hearings.

Among the signatories was the Rev Nicholas Mercer, a former lieutenant colonel who was the senior legal officer on operations during the invasion of Iraq.

“The Justice and Security Bill has one principle aim and that is to cover up UK complicity in rendition and torture,” he said. ”The Bill is an affront to the open justice on which this country rightly prides itself and, above all, it is an affront to human dignity.”

Time for a complete rethink on this Bill, I believe.
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