Secret courts ‘unjust’ warns Law Society

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Extending secret courts to ordinary civil justice cases would see the UK ‘stoop to the level of repressive regimes’, the Law Society warns today.

In a letter to members of the Public Bill Committee for the Justice and Security Bill, Chancery Lane says the plans could fatally undermine the courtroom, ‘which should be an independent and objective forum in which allegations of wrongdoing can be fairly tested, and where the government and others can be transparently held to account’.

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President Lucy Scott-Moncrieff outlines the Society’s concerns about Part 2 of the bill, which includes proposals to extend the use of closed material procedures (CMPs) to ordinary civil law cases.

She warns that CMPs undermine an essential principle of justice, which is that all parties are entitled to see and challenge all of the evidence relied upon before the court, and to combat that evidence by calling evidence of their own. Procedures will weaken fair trial guarantees and the principle of equality of arms, which are essential concepts of the rule of law, she adds.

She said: ‘Secret trials and non-disclosure of evidence are characteristics most commonly associated with repressive regimes and undemocratic societies. Whilst the government rightly takes a strong stance in respect of the importance of the rule of law globally, we fear that if passed, this bill will adversely affect the UK’s international reputation for fair justice.

‘British justice should not be seen to stoop to the level of repressive regimes.’

The Society insists that the government has failed to make a national security case for extending CMPs to ordinary civil litigation.

Scott-Moncrieff added: ‘These procedures are simply not required in ordinary civil claims, such as claims for damages in relation to negligence or breach of contract, actions for injunctive relief, and claims for judicial review, in order to enable the government to take measures necessary to combat threats to national security.’

She said: ‘The government has also failed to address the wider implications of introducing CMPs on the relationship between lawyer and clients. It will be impossible for lawyers to advise their clients in their best interests if they are not privy to the information being used against them in court and are able to discuss this with those clients.

‘This breaches a fundamental right of claimants in a just society.’

The Society will submit a detailed memorandum to the committee.

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