Ken Clarke has been warned that his plan to allow secret evidence in civil court cases and inquests faces a revolt in the House of Lords – unless he can show that the purpose of the measure is to protect the public.
The Justice Secretary wants the Government to have the power to rule that evidence based on information from intelligence sources can be introduced in secret in cases like that of the former Guantanamo Bay internee, Binyam Mohamed, who was one of 16 former prisoners paid damages by the Government to avoid court battles.
Officials claim privately that the Government could have won some or all of those cases in court if it had been able to produce all the evidence it held, but much of it was highly sensitive intelligence material. Still, some lawyers believe the Government would have lost the cases anyway, and that the proposed changes are being brought in to protect the intelligence services rather than the public. Ken Macdonald, a Liberal Democrat peer and former Director of Public Prosecutions, predicted a rough ride for the proposals when they reach the Lords, with its high proportion of lawyers.
"Parliament will want to scrutinise this very, very carefully," he said. "The main thing is going to be whether evidence is being presented in secret to protect the public, or because it would be embarrassing to the security services and the Government is trying to save its blushes.
"The thing is to produce legislation that clearly distinguish between the two and that whatever the Government does falls on the right side of that line."