For Their Eyes Only: shining a light on plans for secret justice

13 February 2012

Author: 
Sophie Farthing - Policy Officer

We all know that justice must not only be done – it must be seen to be done. Well, all of us it appears apart from those with the most power in our country.

Today Liberty launches a new campaign, "For Their Eyes Only", to oppose Government plans as outlined in its latest Green Paper ironically entitled "Justice and Security". These proposals would deal a fatal blow to justice and transparency in our civil legal system.

If the policy makes it onto the statute book, the Government will be able to throw a cloak of secrecy over litigation to which it is a party by gaining control over what material can be disclosed to the other side and in open court. This will be achieved by making Closed Material Procedure ("CMP") available in all civil cases.

"CMP" is a mechanism which currently allows legal proceedings to go ahead in private in a select number of exceptional cases, including appeals against control orders (and their replacement TPIMs). The individual concerned isn’t present, nor is their legal representative. Instead the Government appoints a “Special Advocate” (SA) to represent "their interests". Having an SA is not like having a normal legal representative. He or she cannot disclose relevant material to the ‘client’ or even talk to them without Home Office permission. Instead the SA must contest the “evidence” on the basis of guesswork and estimation, a role that has been described as “like taking blind shots in the dark at a hidden target”.

As CMP becomes routine rather than an exceptional legal anomaly, justice will take place behind closed doors, and all at the Government’s say-so. It won’t just be the press and public who are shut out, but – astonishingly – also litigants, their lawyers, victims and their families. It will apply not only in civil disputes, but inquests as well. The thought of a “secret inquest” for the victims of 7/7, or civil actions against police for assault being closed to public scrutiny, should send a shiver up the spine of everyone who wants to have confidence in what the authorities do in our name and supposedly in our interests.

This is a pivotal point for the Rule of Law, for justice, and for democracy.

Go to www.ForTheirEyesOnly.co.uk to find out more about Liberty's campaign and what this attempt to elevate the authorities above the law means for us all.