Supreme Court sits in secret for first time in history

 

The highest court in the land controversially sat in secret for the first time in its history today but insisted it had reached the decision with "great reluctance".

The ruling is highly significant at a time when the Government's contentious plans for secret courts have caused outrage amongst human rights groups and led to several high profile Liberal Democrat resignations.

Today Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, said that he and his fellow eight justices has agreed to hold a closed hearing in the case of an appeal by an Iranian Bank, banned from trading with British companies under the counter terrorism act.

The UK’s most senior judge, who has always advocated open justice, said that they were “dubious” and “sceptical” about the Government legal team’s claim that they could not deal with the appeal justly without hearing its secret evidence but had agreed to a closed hearing to consider it.

“It must be emphasised that this is a decision which is reached with great reluctance by all members of the court; indeed it is a majority decision,” said Lord Neuberger.

Bank Mellat is appealing sanctions imposed by the Treasury in 2009, claiming it was unfairly accused of alleged links with Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and the order is “irrational and disproportionate”.

Government evidence – kept secret on the grounds of national security - was considered by Mr Justice Mitting at the High Court when he made the order. Lawyers for the Government insisted that the Supreme Court justices would not have the full picture without considering the secret evidence while those representing the Iranian bank argued that such material – which it cannot see or defend itself against – should be excluded.

During legal submissions earlier this week, it was argued that the Supreme Court’s constitutional status meant that there was a greater burden on it to keep its work public than on lower courts. However, it would be in an unsatisfactory position if it was not allowed to see evidence on which the lower court made a judgement.

“No judge can face with equanimity the prospect of a hearing, or any part of a hearing, which is not only in private, but involves one of the parties not being present or represented,” said Lord Neuberger today, adding: “Nonetheless, as Parliament has decided that, in certain circumstances, such a procedure is necessary and permissible in a trial before a Judge, we have concluded that, on an appeal from a decision in a case where a Judge has considered closed material and given a closed judgment, it may be necessary for this court to go into closed session in order to dispose of the appeal justly.”

During the 40-minute closed session, the nine justices considered secret parts of Mr Justice Mitting’s judgement. Barristers representing the Treasury as well as Bank Mellat were present, though the latter cannot reveal details to the bank.

The Supreme Court said that it would only consider the secret evidence if it deemed it “absolutely necessary” and every effort would be made to give Bank Mellat as much access to information as possible.

Lord Neuberger added: “No doubt in due course when we have completed the closed hearing and (Michael Brindle QC, the barrister for Bank Mellat) has made his closing submissions, and we in due course consider the matter and give our judgment, we will have quite a few things to say about this unhappy procedure.”

Sarosh Zaiwalla  of Zaiwalla & Co, the London law firm representing the bank, said: “Although they do so with the greatest reluctance, The Supreme Court have said they will look at the closed judgement.

“HM Treasury are clutching at straws in their insistence that the Court should consider the closed judgement and I am confident that they will find nothing to justify HM Treasury’s decision to designate it.

“Britain is internationally recognised as a beacon of open justice and parties from all over the world come to the UK because of this. It is therefore of international concern that the United Kingdom’s Parliament has given the right to the Court to use this closed evidence procedure.”

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
food + drink
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'
tvCilla review: A poignant ending to mini-series
News
i100
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style