UK activists to battle secret justice bill

British human rights groups are gearing up for a muscle-flexing with the British government over “secret justice” plan that allows closed court sessions for evidence deemed sensitive in national security terms.

The Justice and Security Bill will be debated in the House of Lords on November 19 and 21.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Liberty campaign group and legal charity Reprieve will step up their campaign against the bill in the run-up to the debate.

Critics of the move say it is a “real threat” to fair trial while it enables the government to “hide the truth” and dodge embarrassing revelations in such cases as police shootings, soldiers killed by friendly fire and maltreatment of detainees.

“It is not too late for ministers to think again before taking a wrecking ball to the British tradition of fairness and equality,” Reprieve executive director Clare Algar said.

Amnesty International’s UK researcher Alice Wyss warned in October that the government’s secret courts plan that allows prosecutions without a clear charge or evidence creates a dark justice system “straight from the pages of a Kafka novel.”

Wyss, who was speaking after the publication of a study on the proposals which included testimony from 25 barristers and solicitors involved in cases where evidence had been heard in secret, added that the plan gives the government the power to “simply play the ‘national security’ card whenever it wants to keep things secret.”

The report– called Left in the Dark: the use of secret evidence in the UK– said the new bill will substantially extend the use of the so-called closed material procedures (CMPs) even to the cases where the government faces a lawsuit for human rights violations such as torture and enforced disappearance.

Amnesty said the government can already rely on secret evidence in at least 21 different contexts and the new bill is apparently designed solely to give the government a “cloak of secrecy” to cover its “wrongdoing” rather than to protect the national security.