The Government is refusing to publish legal advice it has taken on whether its plans for secret courts conflict with the right to a fair trial, claiming that the “public interest” requires that it is kept secret.
The Government’s refusal follows the recent publication by the Equality and Human Rights Commission of legal advice from a QC which found that the Justice and Security Bill – which proposes to expand secret courts across the civil justice system – was at odds with both English Common Law and European Convention rights to a fair trial.
In response to a Freedom of Information request made bythe legal charity Reprieve, the Ministry of Justice confirmed that it holds legal advice on the issue, but claimed that “the public interest is better served by withholding this information…at this time” – despite the Bill facing the final stages of its passage through the Lords this week.
Reprieve’s Executive Director, Clare Algar said: “It is hard to see how the public interest is served by the Government’s refusal to release the legal advice it has been given on secret courts. If ministers continue to withhold this, people are likely to conclude that they know what many of us have for some time: that this Bill is hopelessly at odds with the long-standing British right to a fair trial. The Lords must vote against these dangerous plans – otherwise, we will be left living in a country where the Government is able to put itself above the law.”