An influential Parliamentary committee said today (28 February) that the Government is still failing to demonstrate the need for a proposed roll-out of secret courts across the British justice system.
In a report published today, the Joint Committee on Human Rights said "We have not seen anything to change the view we expressed on this issue in our First Report on the Bill,” which found that “the Government had not demonstrated by reference to evidence that there is a real and practical problem which justifies the radical departure from common law principles contained in the proposal to extend CMPs.”
Ken Clarke - the minister responsible - has argued that secret courts are needed to try cases involving matters of national security, but has been criticised for his inability to point to a single concrete example of a case which demonstrates this. The JCHR has previously warned of a “troubling lack of evidence of any actual cases demonstrating the problem which the [Government] asserts to exist.”
CMPs would give ministers the ability to exclude their opponents from the court room, along with the press and the public, and present a one-sided case to the judge, free of effective challenge. The reasons for any outcome in the case would then remain secret.
The Executive Director of the legal action charity Reprieve, Clare Algar said: “Secret courts would undermine the centuries-old British principle that you have the right to see and to challenge the evidence used against you. It is staggering that the Government is tearing up one of our oldest legal freedoms, despite having failed to produce a shred of evidence that this is necessary. This should make it clear to anyone that this Bill is more about covering up politicians’ embarrassment than anything else. By pushing cases into secret courts, the Government could ensure that everything from state involvement in torture to the neglect of British soldiers could be hidden from public view.”