Justice secretary Ken Clarke has defended plans for civil hearings and inquests involving the security services behind closed doors – despite concerns over ‘secret justice”.
The Daily Mail has been campaigning on the issue for the last week, comparing the use of ‘secret courts’to regimes in Iran and North Korea.
Under draft plans the Government would hold controversial court cases and inquests deemed to have the potential to ‘damage the public interest’behind closed doors.
Clarke defended the proposals before the Parliamentary joint committee on human rights yesterday, admitting he was ‘startled’by the reaction to the Government’s plans.
As well as receiving cross-party opposition, a group of special advocates that includes 19 Queen’s Counsel has also criticised the plans, arguing they represent a ‘departure from the foundational principle of natural justice” and “undermine the principle that public justice should be dispensed in public”.
Clarke told the committee that 27 cases, some involving al Qaida cell, were in the pipeline, and warned that of the potential damage to national security.
“One case blowing up our intelligence penetration of a group of people would be very, very bad from a national point of view,” he said.
Clarke added: “Of course it’s not as good as open justice. If open justice was available we would prefer that, but it is a way in which the judge can have all the relevant evidence put before him or her.
“The alternative is nothing. The alternative is inquests which are adjourned or a case which is never fought.
“We either have no evidence or we have an admittedly second best way of presenting it.”
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