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Issue #1561      22 August 2012

Secret trials to cover up Britain’s role in torture

Government plans to introduce Kafkaesque secret trials could in themselves be kept secret under legislation before the Lords, it has emerged. Under the Justice and Security Bill, the government would be able to apply to the courts for a case to be held in closed material proceedings (CMP) on the grounds of “national security”.

Under CMP the government could present evidence to a judge without the defence being able to challenge it or even being aware of the nature of the evidence. The plans have been widely condemned by civil liberties groups and human rights lawyers as an attempt by the government to put itself and the security services above the law.

However this week it was revealed, in a deeply sinister development reminiscent of the now infamous super-injunctions, that the very fact that the government has applied for a court case to be held in secret may itself be kept secret.

A super-injunction is a gagging order which prohibits the reporting of an issue but also the reporting of the fact that the order exists. Notable examples include one obtained by Dutch commodity trader Trafigura in 2009 to prevent publication of comments made in Parliament about waste dumping.

They have also been used by sports stars and celebrities to prevent details of their private lives being published. During debates in the Lords on the Bill last month, the details of which have only just come to light, government minister Baroness Stowell stated that “in some instances the fact of the application (for CMP) will not be made public.”

Lord Falconer questioned the minister further, asking “whether it is envisaged that the fact of an application being made for a closed material proceeding should be kept secret.”

The minister responded: “If the knowledge that the application has been made could give rise to concern about national security, it would not be made public.”

Legal action charity Reprieve, which has opposed the introduction of secret trials, condemned any suggestion that CMP applications could be kept secret.

Executive director Clare Algar said: “This is a deeply disturbing development, reminiscent of super-injunctions in its excessive secrecy.

“Yet instead of merely covering up footballers’ indiscretions, these courts could be used to sweep serious state human rights abuses - such as torture – under the carpet. If this Bill passes, it will badly damage centuries of British legal tradition and make it far harder for the citizen to hold the state to account.”

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman told the Star: “Nothing currently heard in open will go into closed session. Allegations will still be public, but these reforms will enable the media to report on the judgements in cases which currently receive no media or judicial scrutiny.”

Morning Star  

Next article – Mutated butterflies: Fukushima aftermath continues

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