This week has seen the Queens Speech in which the government sets out its agenda for the coming Parliament. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has commented that Justice is a key feature of that agenda. This seems ironic in the light of the most dramatic attack on Access to Justice that most lawyers can remember.
The Queen’s speech included a commitment to another measure which is less of an attack on Access to Justice but more an attack on Justice itself.
This is the proposal for secret court hearings.
Under these plans courts will hear some evidence behind closed doors. Now there will always be highly sensitive cases involving national security when reporting of evidence needs to be restricted. Judges can deal with that when the situation arises. But these proposals go way beyond that. Defendants or Claimants will be barred from hearing evidence directly related to their case. Even their legal representatives will be excluded.
This flies in the face of any understanding of open justice – of Justice being seen to be done.
According to the Guardian newspaper this has come following pressure from our own secret services and also from the USA. Their main concern has followed recent cases where evidence obtained by torture or other abuse has been disclosed.
There is even a suggestion that politicians rather than judges will have the final say in what is to be concealed.
Most Human Rights groups including Amnesty International and Liberty have expressed concern.
This comes alongside other provisions which will make it easier for the state to tap telephone calls and emails.
Will the coalition which includes a party with Liberal and Democrat in the name support secret courts? In the UK we all have elected representatives. They should be left in no doubt that we do not want secret justice where we are unable to see what is done in our name.