The former Director of Public Prosecutions has today warned that the Government's plans to introduce secret court proceedings in civil cases are an audacious attack on Britain's justice system, and risk placing the Government above the law.
Ken (Lord) Macdonald was speaking in response to the recently-published Justice and Security Green Paper, which proposes to introduce Closed Material Procedures (CMPs) across the civil justice system - allowing the Government to use evidence against individuals which they would be unable to challenge, or even to see. The plans would also abolish the use of the legal method by which evidence of British officials’ involvement in torture and rendition was first brought to light.
The Green Paper proposals, believed to have been drafted in response to the embarrassments of the War on Terror years, have been widely criticised for tipping the scales of justice radically in favour of the Government. The legal profession is united in opposition to the measures, warning that they will make it impossible for barristers and judges to test Government evidence and therefore to get to the truth - in cases of vital public interest.
Ken Macdonald QC said: "These unprecedented proposals are an audacious attack on the fundamental principle of British justice: that you should be able to know, and to challenge, the claims which are made against you.
"They threaten to put the Government above the law, while leaving ordinary citizens, and the press, shut out of their own justice system. After a decade in which we have seen our politicians and officials caught up in the woeful abuses of the War on Terror, the last thing the Government should be seeking is to sweep all of this under the carpet. However, that is exactly what their disastrous secret justice proposals are likely to do.
"We cannot afford to sleepwalk into a system of secret courts. David Cameron came to power saying ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant’. We should not sacrifice Britain’s open and transparent justice system simply to protect politicians and their officials from embarrassment."
Notes to editors
1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve's press office on +44 (0) 207 427 1082, or see reprieve.org.uk/investigations/secret_justice for background on the Green Paper.