Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Secret justice and an abuse of power: How the Government plans to allow controversial court cases and inquests to be heard behind closed doors

Shot dead by police: Jean Charles de Menezes was killed by police after mistakenly being identified as a suicide bomber. If the law was changed, details could be withheld from inquests like his.

The historic principle that justice should be seen to be done is threatened by hugely controversial plans to allow secret hearings, ministers are being warned.

Proposals for sweeping new powers which would allow the Government to withhold any evidence it deems ‘sensitive’ from an open civil court hearing or inquest are facing a chorus of criticism.

Former director of public prosecutions Ken Macdonald yesterday attacked the Government’s proposal for so-called ‘closed material procedures’ in civil courts, an attempt to prevent sensitive claims for damages being aired in open hearings.

Critics say the legislation has been ‘dictated’ by the security services following an embarrassing string of cases brought against them by former terrorist suspects who claimed they had been subjected to torture.

In the case of Binyam Mohamed, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner who sought to sue the Government for complicity in torture, the Government tried to conceal documents disclosing his alleged mistreatment but were overruled by the courts.

There is increasing concern that Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke’s proposals will mean ministers being able to prevent a huge range of cases – from military inquests to police and medical negligence claims – being held in public.

Negligence claims against the Ministry of Defence for death and injuries arising from ‘friendly fire’ incidents or failure of equipment would be a prime target for ministers seeking to avoid embarrassment, campaigners predict. Read More