Minister Damian Green was accused of hypocrisy tonight after he insisted that transparency was key to reforming the justice system at a time when the Government is pushing through proposals for secret courts.
Outlining his strategy for improving the criminal justice system, Mr Green said the key principles of his action plan would be “accountability, transparency and professionalism”.
In a speech detailing the need to modernise the police and courts, the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice said: “If we can expose the workings of the criminal justice system - really enable those involved and the wider public to see the processes in play; the actions taken, the decisions made - then we will truly start to expose more problems and challenges than I have identified.
“It is only through understanding the issues, shining light into the workings of the machinery of the CJS, that we will understand where we can make things better and where we can join up across the system to the advantage of those in it and those who rely it……I believe that the drive to greater transparency will also reap an additional reward: an improvement in public confidence.”
Mr Green was speaking at a time when the Government is backing proposals for “closed material procedures” where some court evidence could be heard in secret. It insists such measures are necessary as it has been forced to abandon cases - such as the one brought by former Guantanamo Bay detainees - and pay out compensation because it could not introduce sensitive information from intelligence sources.
But human rights campaigners have warned that if ministers get their way then secret material, which will not even be disclosed to the opposing claimant, would be used to defend serious allegations. The only people allowed to be present would be the judge, the government itself and a government-appointed special advocate.
Today Clare Algar, executive director of the charity Reprieve, said: "This shows just how far rhetoric has detached from reality when it comes to this Government's justice policy.
“It is the height of hypocrisy for a minister to emphasise transparency in the justice system at the same time as his Government pushes plans for secret courts through Parliament.
“The Secret Courts Bill would of course dramatically reduce transparency, while allowing ministers and their officials to put themselves effectively above the law. It appears that the Government's commitment to transparency applies to everyone but themselves."
During his keynote speech to stakeholders in the justice system, organised by the think-tank Reform, Mr Green said it was time to overhaul a justice system that was technologically far behind the private sector, plagued by delays and failed to give the public the service “they expect want or deserve”.