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Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Secret Justice?

It seems that many of the cornerstones of our democracy are under threat.

Yesterday there was talk of government departments having access to our email accounts.

Today it is all about secret justice. In many ways this is even more alarming. These proposals would lead to a wave of secret courts i.e. those where we do not get to see or hear what is happening. Effectively the government would be able to dictate what evidence should be kept from us.

Open and independent justice has always been an important part of our legal system. A system of which we have been rightly proud and which has influenced systems across the world. Anybody coming before our courts has always been entitled to fairness,  justice and independent legal representation. How can evidence be challenged if the parties and legal representatives cannot see it?

Under these proposals evidence could be kept back even from somebody’s own chosen lawyer. The evidence would be considered by a select group known as Special Advocates who are themselves concerned that the proposals are unfair.

These extreme measures exist in terrorism related cases but the proposed changes would give ministers the right to use them in any case where they decide it is necessary. It should not be for the state to decide how justice is done and seen to be done.

The All Party Human Rights Committee has rightly expressed concerns, describing them as unnecessary and potentially damaging. Their Chair, Dr. Hywel Francis said - “Closed Material Procedures are inherently unfair and the Government has failed to show that extending their use might in some instances contribute to greater fairness.”

Deputy PM Nick Clegg has expressed concern – which is what we would expect from a Lib Dem Politician. But will they break rank?

This is something which should concern all of us and will need to be closely scrutinised.

Fighting for your rights

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