Closed court decision gives government a major victory says University expert
Release Date 22 November 2012
The Lord's vote on closed courts gives the government a majory victory, says Dr Lawrence McNamara, Reader in Law and ESRC Fellow at the University of Reading where he runs the ‘Law, Terrorism and the Right to Know' research programme.
Dr McNamara gave evidence to The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) in February this year.
Dr Lawrence McNamara said:
"There can be no doubt that the decisions in the Lords last night were extremely important. It was a resounding defeat for the government on key issues. Among them, the Bill will now prevent a government being the primary decider about whether closed material proceedings can be used and will contain what the Joint Committee on Human Rights referred to as “genuine judicial discretion” when that decision is made. It will also contain an additional provision that requires consideration of whether the public interest in fair an open justice should prevail and that will be especially important where the risk of harm to national security is very minimal.
"In making those very same amendments, the Lords have given the government a major victory, and that is being overlooked in the headlines today.
"The proposal to completely remove the closed material proceedings - or ‘secret courts' - provisions was defeated by 164 votes to 25. It seems very likely that the parliamentary debates from this point will not be about whether to establish new secrecy procedures, but about what kind of secrecy procedures will be established. There is a very wide range of possibilities in that regard.
"As importantly, matters that will be crucial were not addressed in debates last night but will arise. They include whether there should be a ‘sunset clause' which would mean the legislation is enacted only for a limited time and would expire unless parliament renewed it, whether the government should be required to report to parliament and make public how often it seeks to use secret proceedings, whether the media (which is in effect the public) should be informed if closed proceedings are being requested, and whether there will be provisions that ensure a closed judgment can be made public at a later stage if secrecy is no longer required.
"While yesterday's debates were a key milestone, we are a long, long way from knowing what the law will ultimately become."
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Notes to editors:
Law, Terrorism and the Right to Know is a three year research programme funded by a £300,000 joint award from two UK government research councils, the ESRC and AHRC.
The programme explores democratic traditions of media freedom, and the contemporary demands of national and international security. It looks especially at the ways governments and courts deal with security related matters, and the relationships between the state and the media.