UK: International rights group slams secret justice ahead of debate on controversial bill

Monday, October 15, 2012
Amnesty International has heavily criticized the UK government’s plans for a 
substantial extension of the use of secret evidence in the justice system.
Photo © Steve Calcott
London: In its published report, Amnesty International Monday criticised the United Kingdom government’s plans for a substantial extension of the use of secret evidence in the justice system

The proposals would allow the government to rely on secret evidence in civil cases, including cases of alleged government responsibility for human rights violations such as torture and enforced disappearance. 

The measures, contained in the Justice and Security Bill due to be debated in the House of Lords in the coming weeks, would allow the government to use so-called “closed material procedures” to prevent individuals and their lawyers from seeing documents even when they show the involvement of UK officials in wrongdoing, no matter how grave.

If such disclosures are deemed to harm “national security”, then the material can be withheld, potentially indefinitely, even if there is an overwhelming public interest in disclosure. 

The government can already rely on secret evidence in at least 21 different contexts - including in appeals against the imposition of highly restrictive Terrorist Prevention and Investigation Measures (the successor to “control orders”), and national security deportation proceedings. 

Amnesty International's 50-page report, Left In The Dark: the use of secret evidence in the United Kingdom, is highly critical of the unprecedented growth in the use of secret justice measures in the UK in the last decade, seeing it as a “radical departure” from the basic requirements of fairness in civil and criminal cases. 

The report includes critical testimony from some 25 barristers and solicitors who have acted in such cases, and three “special advocates” who are allowed to see secret evidence but not allowed to discuss it with the person affected. 

The government’s efforts to gain agreement over controversial measures in the Justice and Security Bill come after - among other things - a recent civil action for damages brought by a number of individuals who alleged that the UK had been involved in their rendition, unlawful detention and mistreatment, including while at Guantánamo Bay. 

Whilst Amnesty International recognizes that governments can lawfully restrict disclosure of information in some circumstances, the organisation believes that the government’s broad proposals are inconsistent with its international human rights obligations. The proposed measures also depart from traditional standards of fairness and open justice, and would allow the government to avoid proper scrutiny of its human rights record.
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