Secret Courts

Mark Chapman : Secret Courts - A silent start

Lady Justice - Old BaileyUnremarked upon, a mere footnote in the newspapers, but Justice took a significant step backwards this week with the start of a trial that will be held, at least in part, 'in secret'. The trial of Erol Incedal at the Old Bailey will - according to the judge - "have some unusual features. The usual way that justice is administered is in public. Some of this trial will be conducted in that way. However there will be other sessions of this trial that will be conducted in private. The public will not be able to attend these".

Not just the public, but journalists as well will be restricted from certain sections of the trial, so that the contents disclosed will never be public. Furthermore, the public will not be given an outline of what it is that is being discussed in secret, or any reasons why it must be secret.

That this has come about at all is as a consequence of the bill passed by the Coalition government last year. At the time there was a fair amount of media comment on it and the Lib Dem MPs defied the vote of members at their conference in voting for the bill. Now however, reporting a case which is affected, and there is silence - merely a footnote at the end of the standard court report. It seems as though the battle has already been lost, and the media have moved on.

Just because the media move on, however, doesn't mean that we should. The principle and practice of secret courts are dangerous and should be challenged wherever and whenever possible. We should take the time to understand the Justice that is being done in our name, and seeking to ensure that it is, above all, Just.

There are 2 major issues with the existence of secret courts. Firstly, it removes one of the fundamental tenets of the right to a fair trial - that the trial be conducted in public. As recently as 2011 in a landmark hearing (Al Rawi) the Supreme Court of the UK upheld the principle of open justice. The removal of this openness means that the accused can either never hear evidence which helps to convict them, removing them of the ability to accurately refute that evidence; or alternatively it means that they too are restricted from talking about certain aspects of the trial in public meaning that even if found to be innocent, they have restrictions placed on their freedom of speech.

Blow to Justice as "Secret Courts" Bill Passes

Wednesday, 27 March, 2013 - 09:30

Attempts to improve a law establishing secret courts failed in the Lords as amendments were voted down. The Justice and security bill will extend 'closed material procedures' (secret courts) in to the main civil courts in England and Wales. Secret courts have been opposed by civil society groups including Amnesty International and Reprieve amongst others.

Pirate Party justice spokesperson Loz Kaye said: