British-government plans to allow secret court hearings could become a reality within weeks, after the House of Lords failed to introduce safeguards in the proposed legislation. Omar Karmi reports from London
'Bad day for British justice' as secret-court law gets all-clear
LONDON // British-government plans to allow secret court hearings could become a reality within weeks, after the House of Lords failed to introduce safeguards in the proposed legislation.
The "closed material procedures" permitted by the Justice and Security bill, which allows for evidence to be presented in secret to protect national security , could lead to individuals and their lawyers being denied access to crucial evidence, critics have warned. Sensitive evidence could also remain secret even in the face of public interest.
Amnesty International described the passage of the bill on Tuesday night as a "terrible day for British justice".
"The cherished and vitally important principle that justice must be done, and be seen to be done, has been dealt a serious blow," said Tim Hancock, Amnesty's campaign director.
The House of Lords, Britain's upper house of parliament, struck down two amendments that would have would have mitigated some of the more controversial aspects of the bill.
One would have decreed that the closed material procedures would only be a last-ditch measure.
The other would have left it up to a judge to decide in each case whether national security considerations outweighed the public interest.
Defenders of the bill, which was put forward by Kenneth Clark, the Conservative minister without portfolio, said it was "necessary legislation".
The bill has already passed with a significant majority in the House of Commons, where Menzies Campbell, a Liberal Democrat MP, said the bill ensured the government "couldn't close off any particular line of investigation".
Even some prominent members of the opposition Labour Party supported it.
Jack Straw, a former home and foreign secretary, said intelligence was crucial to national security and agents should not be deterred from passing on information.
But Clare Algar, the executive director of Reprieve, a London-based human rights legal group, said that there had been a "total lack of evidence" that the bill's measures were necessary.
Human rights groups have vowed to continue to fight the bill, though Donald Campbell of Reprieve conceded that its passage into law was now largely a formality.