A good day to bury bad news? High Court rules trials can be held in secret

Published November 19th, 2009 - 02:05 GMT
The very tenets of the British legal system have been dealt a devastating blow when the High Court backed a government bid to hold trials in secret.
The judgement, which was handed down by Mr Justice Silber, would allow the government and security services unparalleled powers of non-disclosure in cases it deemed sensitive to national security.
Legal and civil rights campaigners described the ruling as "profoundly disturbing" and said that the British government's role in torture and rendition could remain hidden forever as a result.
The ruling was on a legal principle which arose during the civil action brought by seven former Guantanamo detainees against the British state.
Bisher Al Rawi, Jamil Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes, Moazzam Begg, Binyam Mohamed and Martin Mubanga were all subject to extraordinary rendition, detention and torture in which they argued the British government was complicit.
The seven are seeking disclosure of information held by the government and security services which they believe will prove the government's complicity.
For its part the state argues that the material is too sensitive to be disclosed as it would impact on national security.
Justice Silber, in his judgement, stated that in his view "it can be lawful and proper for a court to order that a 'closed material procedure' be adopted in a claim for civil damages."
He rejected arguments that such a process would disadvantage a claimant more than the existing public interest legislation.
The judgement proposed a special advocacy model whereby a lawyer appointed by the Attorney General could hear the evidence and argue on behalf of the claimant. The advocate would not be able to tell the claimant the evidence.
Justice human rights director Eric Metcalfe said: "This ruling is unprecedented. It dramatically extends the model.
"Previously claimants in a case who have made very serious allegations of conspiracy to commit unlawful acts and complicity in torture would have had disclosure.
"This ruling takes that away. This is the first time an English court has suggested this and it is a profoundly disturbing ruling."
Amnesty International UK campaigns director Tim Hancock said: "Today the court has missed a crucial opportunity to uphold human rights and the rule of law.
"The ruling means that alleged complicity by the UK authorities is likely to remain hidden, possibly forever."
The case will now be expedited to the Court of Appeal.

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