Secret courts plan under attack despite Tory concessions

Civil rights groups warn that revised Bill would still throw a 'cloak of secrecy' over trial proceedings

Moves to allow some courts to sit behind closed doors to hear evidence from spies will "throw a cloak of secrecy" over the country's judicial system, human-rights campaigners warned yesterday.

The Government's original plans for a major extension of "secret courts" in civil proceedings have been substantially scaled back in the face of protests from lawyers and MPs of all parties.

But the Justice and Security Bill, which was finally published after wrangling within the Coalition, still faces widespread criticism for undermining fundamental British principles of open justice.

Critics also warned that the revised proposals could still prevent the public from learning about allegations of complicity in rendition by the intelligence services.

Courts will still be able to hear evidence in secret, known as closed material proceedings, but only when national security was the justification. Inquests have been removed from the plans and judges, not ministers, will have the power to order the secret sessions.

The Government said the power is essential to allow it to defend itself against vexatious civil court cases and to reassure foreign countries – specifically the United States – that sensitive material can be safely shared with Britain.

Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, said the measures were "less than perfect – but at the moment the alternative is silence".

But Lord Macdonald, a former director of public prosecutions, warned that the legislation had been improved but was still flawed. He told the BBC Radio 4: "Some government wrongdoing in the area of national security is going to be less likely to see the light of day. So I think the Bill still contains much which is offensive to our traditional notions of equal parties adjudicating cases in front of an impartial judge."

Alice Wyss, of Amnesty International, said: "We still need to carefully examine the details of the Bill. But our concerns still stand: that the Bill will allow the Government to throw a cloak of secrecy over wrongdoing including the alleged involvement by UK officials in rendition, secret detention and torture."

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said: "This Bill would end equal open civil justice, putting ministers and securocrats above the law."

She said under the proposals judges would still be required to comply with ministers' requests for secrecy.

Launching the Bill, Mr Clarke said the plans had been improved following consultation. "Protecting the public cannot come at the expense of our historic freedoms," he said. "That principle is absolutely right and has guided the Government's response. Civil claims of mistreatment or complicity in torture brought against British agents which cannot currently be heard in our courts can... be heard.

"[The Bill] will stop the taxpayer being forced to pay out compensation even where a case has no merit and will ensure that the public receives an independent judgment either way on serious allegations which have been laid against the Government."

But Sadiq Khan, the shadow Justice Secretary, said: "Our job, now the Bill is published, is to go through it with a fine-tooth comb and work out whether the Government has listened to concerns or whether it has simply pushed ahead regardless."

Clarke brands Tory Eurosceptics 'extremists'

Supporters of a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union – including scores of Conservative MPs – were dismissed by Kenneth Clarke yesterday as a "few extreme nationalist politicians".

In comments certain to antagonise the Tory right, the Justice Secretary insisted there was little public appetite for a vote on whether to pull out of the EU.

Although he acknowledged the nation was a "bit eurosceptic", he said it was ridiculous to believe there was a public clamour for a referendum. He added: "It is the demand of a few right-wing journalists and a few extreme nationalist politicians."

Mr Clarke, regarded as the most pro-European Tory member of the Government, said a referendum would create "absolute confusion" and undermine efforts to retain the confidence of the markets in the British economy.

"It would settle nothing. Particularly it would settle nothing with the more frenzied eurosceptics who keep believing European bogies are under the bed," he told BBC Radio 4. More than 70 MPs of all parties have joined the People's Pledge campaign, which is calling for a referendum.

Nigel Morris

Sport
formula oneLive lap-by-lap coverage of championship decider
News
Boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, formerly known as Frank Maloney, entered the 2014 Celebrity Big Brother house
people
Arts and Entertainment
tvStrictly presenter returns to screens after Halloween accident
News
video
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
peopleFormer civil rights activist who was jailed for smoking crack cocaine has died aged 78
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin