Saturday, May 28 2016

MP describes secret trials proposals as “the tools of dictatorship”

The Guardian yesterday reported that Andrew Tyrie MP, the chair of the all party parliamentary group on rendition, who is also currently involved in legal action against America to uncover more information about UK involvement in US-led renditions, has joined others in speaking out against the government’s plans to extend the use of secret trials. He has described the measures, detailed in a Justice and Security Bill, as “the tools of dictatorship”.

From the Guardian:

“Plans for secret hearings in civil courts being put before parliament on Tuesday "offend the principle of open justice", a prominent Conservative MP has warned the government.

“Andrew Tyrie, the member for Chichester who is chair of the all party group on rendition, has challenged ministers to abandon the proposals which he says are more in tune with a dictatorship than a democracy.

“His comments to the Guardian are further evidence of widespread unease among senior lawyers and constitutional experts over the justice and security bill, which has its second reading in the House of Lords on Tuesday afternoon.

“Last week, the Lords' constitution committee, whose members include Lord Irvine, the former lord chancellor, and Lord Goldsmith, the former attorney general, described the expansion of secret hearings into civil courts as "flawed" and "unfair".

“The bill will introduce secret hearings, known as closed material procedures (CMPs) into civil courts where a defendant or claimant is not permitted to see all the evidence.

“But a submission from the majority of special advocates, security-cleared barristers who appear in sensitive cases, have also described CMPs – which are already used in special immigration tribunals – as "inherently unfair".

The Guardian cites Tyrie as saying that, "The crucial offence to justice remains. The most important of which is that material will be presented to the court without the claimant or even his lawyers being able to see it. Instead he or she will be represented by special advocates – who have told us it's inherently unfair.

"It also offends the principle of open justice… Secret courts and impunity for state officials involved in wrongdoing sound more like the tools of dictatorships than Britain.

"We would have found far less out about rendition [under the system proposed by the justice and security bill]. We wouldn't know that the UK facilitated rendition. The scope for the judges to decide whether or not here should be a CMP is much narrower than it has been represented [by the government]."

Speaking on behalf of the campaign group Liberty, which has spoken out strongly against the measures, Shami Chakrabarti stated that "The House of Lords has an uncertain future but peers have their first opportunity to pass judgment on a bill that would put future governments above the law and leave the rest of us in the dark. This is a perfect opportunity to see the second chamber at its best, defending ancient freedoms and equality before the law."

Under Tyrie’s chairmanship, the APPG on rendition has tried to shed light on the extent of British involvement in US-led renditions, damaging the standing of the government. Many suspect that the embarrassment caused by revelations of UK complicity in torture, such as the Binyam Mohamed case, have influenced current proposals.

A recent ‘U-turn’ on some of the proposals has done little to placate strong criticism from politicians, legal experts and the public alike. The government has continued to defend the proposals, stating that the measures are required to protect sensitive intelligence which the UK has promised its allies (namely the US) not to disclose. It goes without saying however, that such measures would be a significant step away from the principle of open justice which define a democratic society in which everyone is equal before the law.

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