British rights group Amnesty International and legal charity Reprieve have condemned the ratification of the governments’ secret courts plan in the House of Lords as a “terrible day for British justice”.
The Labour party had tabled amendments to the government’s Justice and Security Bill, otherwise known as “secret courts” proposals, that allows sensitive intelligence to be presented to a judge by officials while preventing victims and claimants from knowing the allegations against them in full.
The amendment sought to ensure that the extension of Closed Material Procedures (CMPs) under the secret courts plan to civil cases would only happen if a judge ruled that reaching a fair verdict was impossible “by any other means”.
However, the Lords rejected the amendment with a majority of only 16 (174 to 158) votes paving the way for the hugely-controversial plan to become law within a few weeks.
“This is a terrible day for British justice. After fierce lobbying by the government, peers have failed to restore even minimal amendments previously included to this deeply damaging bill,” said Tim Hancock, Amnesty International’s UK campaigns director.
“The cherished and vitally important principle that justice must be done and seen to be done has been dealt a serious blow this evening,” he added.
His comments were echoed by Reprieve executive director Clare Algar who said the secret courts will “do irreparable damage” to Britain’s reputation.
“It is deeply shameful that the government has been allowed to push these plans through parliament, despite the total lack of evidence that they are needed. Secret courts will … do irreparable damage to our reputation as a country which respects fair play and the rule of law,” she said.
British officials claim the Justice and Security Bill is designed to protect national security by preventing confidential information from being exposed.
However, Amnesty said in an earlier report that the plan simply gives the government the power to “simply play the ‘national security’ card whenever it wants to keep things secret”.
The British government now only needs the Queen’s assent to formally unveil the secret courts as a new law.