The first text of the Justice and Security Bill has been published, after a prolonged campaign against secret justice that Big Brother Watch has been proud to be a part of.
While Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has been writing in the Daily Mail about how he has rolled back his plans from a Green Paper he admits was ‘too broad’ there are still serious issues with the contents of the draft Bill.
The important thing to note is that while plans for secret inquests have been dropped, the plans for secret courts remain alive and well.
Crucially, there remains no legislative provision for an individual to challenge the process. A minister makes an application to the court, and ‘the court must make such a declaration’ if the criteria set out are satisfied. On first reading, there is no ability to challenge in court that the criteria are not satisfied.
Essential safeguards are still glaringly absent from the Bill, which would allow evidence of wrongdoing by the security services to be withheld with impunity. There is no obligation for the court to consider the public interest when agreeing for evidence to be heard in secret, nor for the judge to question the scope of the evidence to be heard behind closed doors.
Increased Parliamentary oversight of the intelligence services is to be welcomed, however the Bill remains a direct attack on the principle of open justice, and it is regrettable Ken Clarke did not bring forward a white paper prior to allow further discussion of these exceptionally sensitive matters.