'Kafkaesque' government plans to use secret evidence in court threaten principles of open justice, say Amnesty

 

Government plans to extend the use of secret evidence in court are Kafkaesque and threaten the very principles of fair and open justice, Amnesty International said today.

In a damning criticism of the controversial proposals, the leading human rights organisation said they would simply enable the Government to "play the 'national security' card whenever it wants to keep things secret".

Its 50-page report comes before the Justice and Security Bill is debated in the House of Lords over the next few weeks. Under the widely criticised Bill, judges will be able to listen to more civil cases in secret without claimants being able to hear the evidence against them.

"It's already bad enough that secret procedures have been allowed to creep into the justice system but the Government is now trying to extend secret justice to an unprecedented degree," said Amnesty's Alice Wyss.

"It wants a system where it can simply play the 'national security' card whenever it wants to keep things secret. Evidence that is kept secret, lawyers that can't talk to you: it's a secret justice system straight from the pages of a Kafka novel.

"The Justice and Security Bill will enable the Government to throw a cloak of secrecy over wrongdoing," she added.

The Government has said it is wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers' money settling claims because it is unable to contest them as the evidence it wanted to produce was secret. Last November 16 terrorism suspects, including former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed, received a multimillion-pound pay-out after they claimed they were mistreated by US and British security and intelligence officials.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said the Amnesty report had "missed the point" of the fact that no one can currently take into account security sensitive evidence, leading to the collapse of cases without ever getting to the bottom of serious allegations against the state.

He added: "The Justice and Security Bill will fix this problem by allowing the national security evidence which is excluded under current rules to be heard in a closed procedure.

"Closed justice is never ideal but it is better when the alternative is silence."

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