Reviewing and reporting on the use of secret courts

Charles Walker MP speaking in the House of Commons

Charles Walker raises his reservations about the use of closed material proceedings or secret courts and highlights the importance of keeping their use under regular review. He asks the Minister about parallels in other western European countries.

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Mr Walker: In addressing the new clauses, the Minister said it was important to maintain confidence in our legal system—not only for us to do so, but for our many thousands of constituents to do so. That is why it is so important constantly to review the impact of closed material proceedings. The Minister gave a figure of 15 or more cases a year going through this process, which is not an inconsequential number. Since entering this place, I have seen changes to our legal system that have worried me, such as the introduction of double jeopardy, and the fact that we now seem happy to imprison people for 20 years and when we discover that they did not commit the crime for which they were imprisoned we do not think that they should have much compensation, if any. We are now going down the route of secret courts, so reviewing the impact and consequences of secret proceedings is enormously important, because many thousands of my constituents and many millions of people across the length and breadth of this country are made very nervous by this change, coming on top of other changes. What happens in other EU countries that have proceedings similar to closed material proceedings? What happens in other liberal western democracies?

I conclude my comments by saying that over the weekend a number of Conservative colleagues whom I respect and admire immensely were talking about the UK leaving the European Court of Human Rights. I would support that, but I smile when I find that on the Monday we are talking about bringing in secret courts, as the two things do not make comfortable bedfellows. Thank you very much for allowing me a brief moment on my feet, Mr Speaker.

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Charles’ other interventions in the same debate

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): How many CMPs does my hon. Friend anticipate there being in any one year?

James Brokenshire: Our latest estimate in October was that about 20 cases would fall within the scope of these proceedings, and the regulatory impact assessment indicates up to 15 cases annually. The point is to ensure that there is annual reporting of the forthcoming CMP applications and judgments so that Parliament is regularly updated. We will get a better sense of the situation on an annual basis than if we went for quarterly reporting. That would be too short a period given the nature of litigation and the length of time that these cases are likely to take to go through the courts.

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Mr Charles Walker: I am sure I am pre-empting matters and that my hon. Friend was going to come on to this later in his speech. I asked what happens in other western European countries when it comes to reviewing closed court proceedings. Can he tell me what other European countries do on such matters?

James Brokenshire: It is difficult to answer my hon. Friend’s question. Parallels are difficult to draw in this respect. I can think of one European jurisdiction that is seeking to examine the appointment of an independent reviewer of its own terrorism legislation. We are unusual in having an individual who does such work. People are reflecting on the input from David Anderson, the current reviewer, and his predecessor, Lord Carlile, shining a light and having access to sensitive materials better to inform the debate on sensitive issues relating to terrorist legislation.

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