Senior lawyers attack closed civil hearings
Government plans to hold certain civil court hearings in secret have come under fire from 50 senior lawyers who have said that no case has been made for introducing such an ‘inherently unfair’ procedure.
The 50 lawyers, all special advocates with experience of the present system of closed hearings, have written and signed a response to the Justice and Security bill, which proposes introducing closed material procedures (CMP) in cases where the disclosure of information might damage national security.
The lawyers object in particular to the bill’s requirement that the judge must accede to the government’s application for a CMP even if the judge considers that the case could and should be fairly tried under existing public interest immunity rules.
This contradicts an assurance given by justice secretary Kenneth Clarke (pictured) last month that judges, not politicians, would decide whether cases involving national security should be heard behind closed doors.
The lawyers wrote: ‘…contrary to the assurance given by the lord chancellor in the Foreword to the Response, the bill does not ensure that the decision to trigger a CMP "can only be taken where evidence a (CMP) needed on national security grounds is found to be persuasive by a judge"'.
Responding to a government green paper in April, the special advocates said CMPs are ‘inherently unfair and contrary to the common law tradition’ and that the government would have to show the ‘most compelling reasons to justify their introduction’. They said: ‘No such reasons have been advanced and, in our view, none exists.’