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Secret courts suffer humiliating defeat in House of Lords November 22, 2012

Posted by Holly Rose Wood in Governance, Law.
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Peers delivered a series of humiliating defeats on Wednesday night to government plans to introduce secret courts.

Source: The Telegraph

Secret courts Bill is mauled by peers.

The amendments were put forward by Lord Pannick, a leading QC and human rights lawyer Tom Whitehead

By Tom Whitehead, Security Editor

9:27PM GMT 21 Nov 2012

The House of Lords said the proposals were a “radical departure” from the cornerstone of justice.

Ministers want to allow some civil cases involving national security to be heard behind closed doors so sensitive material can be disclosed.

They want to avoid having to settle out of court to avoid such information being exposed. Claimants would not be allowed to hear the secret evidence against them.

The Justice and Security Bill suffered a mauling in the House of Lords as peers voted through a series of amendments to water down the plans.

They backed moves to give judges more discretion on whether the case should be heard in secret – so called closed material procedures.

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Another successful amendment requires judges to balance the harm caused by disclosing sensitive information with the principle of open justice. Claimants will now also be able to demand a secret hearing, rather than just the Government, if they believe the intelligence services hold information that might help their case.

The amendments, which all passed with large majorities, were put forward by the cross-bench peer Lord Pannick, a leading QC and human rights lawyer.

He said the Bill risked the “integrity of the judicial process”.

He told the House the procedures were “a radical departure from common law principles, which we would all respect and approve, that a party to a case has the right to see the evidence against him and has a chance to answer it”.

A substantial number of Liberal Democrats backed Lord Pannick. Twelve Lib Dems, including ministers, voted with the Government on two amendments but many others rebelled.

Lord Beecham, the Labour justice spokesman, backed Lord Pannick’s safeguards. He said the Government’s proposals were a “radical departure from the cornerstone of our legal system”.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, a Tory peer, said closed hearings could begin as a “rare event but will over time morph into the default position”. However, Baroness Manningham-Buller, the former MI5 director-general, said closed hearings were needed because presenting classified information in open court could put secret agents at risk.

The Government and intelligence agencies say they are currently unable to defend themselves properly against compensation claims or other disputes so have to settle out of court instead.

It is believed the taxpayer has funded more than £15 million in such settlements already, including those detained at Guantánamo Bay.

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