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Secret justice system necessary to stop damages claims says cabinet office

Date: (14 November 2012)    |    

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Secret court hearings were necessary to control the influx of complaints and damages cases mainly from former detainees alleging mistreatment, false imprisonment or UK complicity in rendition the Cabinet Office has said.
Seven fresh claims for damages involving highly sensitive national security evidence were made in the past year which was settled confidentially the government revealed.
The latest figures were released just before House of Lords was going for a crucial vote later in this month on the controversial justice and security bill which would expand the use of the so called closed material procedures (CMP) into the civil courts.
Twenty civil claims against the government involving sensitive information were now before the courts. These cases according to the government cannot be tried fairly without compromising national security and hence will have to be settled confidentially. A spokesperson for the government has said that unless the bar on judges taking national security evidence into account was removed the situation would be getting worse.
The justice and security bill removes the bar to get a judgment on the allegations being made. It also gives the judge important powers to ensure the hearing are fair he said.
Under CMP judges are shown sensitive intelligence but claimants may not be permitted to see all that evidence. Human rights groups fear such powers will enable ministers, rather than judges, to manipulate the way evidence is withheld or presented in the courts, depriving claimants of a fair trial.
The government believes such secret hearings would enable judges to hear a greater range of national security cases. The cabinet minister without portfolio, Ken Clarke, warns that the current rules mean that all evidence relating to these cases cannot be brought before a judge and the government is forced into settling them without admitting liability.
Two senior Conservatives voiced fresh support for the measure at the weekend. Robert Buckland MP, a member of the justice select committee and part-time judge, said that if changes were not made to the use of material in the court then there was a risk of inviting a surge of new claims. Spurious claims would be the order of the day when the enemies would startwill begins to realise that the justice system was an open goal for scoring.
Lord Edward Faulks QC, a member of parliament's joint committee on human rights, said the figures were a cause for worry for creating a justice vacuum on issues of extraordinary significance.
Some legal experts and lawyers say that the justice and security bill would allow the government to win cases in secret. They say that the bull would enable the courts to scrutinise thoroughly evidence from the intelligence and security agencies and reach just decisions based on that evidence.
Labour's justice spokesman, Sadiq Khan, accused Clarke of making "inaccurate and misleading" claims about the government's secret courts bill and warned that the judge's discretion would be a restriction to such an extent that it would be "a judicial decision in name only but the government was making it appear that such fundamental change to the civil justice system was justified.
Civil liberties group’s senior lawyers, and many politicians fear the bill is the thin end of a wedge, overturning long-established, common law precedents about fair and open justice.