Government undermines Lords changes to secret courts Bill, says Reprieve

By agency reporter
January 29, 2013

Ministers are attempting to roll back concessions won by the Lords over their plans for secret courts, says the legal charity Reprieve.

Amendments tabled by Home Office minister James Brokenshire would remove changes made by the upper house which gave slightly more powers to judges in determining whether a secret court – known as a ‘Closed Material Procedure’ (CMP) – could be used by the Government.

The amendments also mean that only Government ministers would be able to make use of a secret court in relation to information that they held; while members of the public bringing cases against them would not. This is at odds with ministers’ claim that they have accepted changes which would allow greater Eequality of arms."

The House of Lords had insisted that, at the very least, a judge should be able to weigh the public interest in justice against the Government’s claims of national security in deciding whether a secret court could be used. However, Government amendments have stripped out this provision, meaning that the judge’s hands will effectively be tied – if a minister says information is national security sensitive, the judge has little choice but to defer to that decision and allow a secret court.

Commenting, Reprieve’s Executive Director, Clare Algar said: “The secret courts bill was already a dangerous assault on British traditions of justice and fair play – now ministers have managed to make it even worse. The Bill will place the Government above the law, and badly damage the independence of our judges. It does not even appear that ministers can be trusted to accept the small steps in the right direction taken by the House of Lords. The only safe course for MPs is to strip out plans for secret courts altogether.”


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