If passed into law, the bill will introduce what are known as ‘closed material proceedings’ (CMPs) which will allow the British government to present secret evidence to a judge without having to disclose it to the rest of the court or, indeed, to a defendant in a trial, or a claimant in a civil case.
Being able to present secret evidence to a judge in any legal case without the other side having the chance to refute it or to even know what it is obviously gives the British Government a huge and unfair advantage in legal proceedings and has the very real potential to present a very one-sided or misleading version of events.
The bill also proposes to extend the draconian secret evidence mechanism to encompass ordinary civil law cases, including employment tribunals.
The draft legislation proposes that the law should be changed so that where a minister decides that certain material, if openly disclosed, would cause damage to the interests of ‘British national security’, that minister can trigger the use of CMP. This means the material will not be disclosed to the other side, yet the British government will be allowed to put the material before a judge and rely on it in defending or pursuing any action through the courts.
If CMPs are implemented, the wide definition of ‘sensitive information’ and ‘British national security interests’ will effectively lead to many controversial cases in the Six Counties being held behind closed doors.
The leading independent human rights’ organisation in the Six Counties, the Committee for the Administration of Justice (CAJ) has already publicly warned of the consequences of the use of these ‘closed material proceedings’.
The CAJ has openly signalled that these secret courts could be used by the British state to thwart any effective investigations into murders which involved either members of the British forces or British agents. Civil actions for damages relating to miscarriages of justice, ill-treatment, unlawful state murders, and failures by the British state to take reasonable steps to protect life are all likely to fall under the remit of these CMPs.
éirígí Rúnaí Ginearálta Breandán Mac Cionnaith said, “This new legislation is clearly aimed at strengthening the existing draconian apparatus which the British state and its various agencies already have access to.
“At a time when MI5 is playing an increased sinister role in the Six Counties, and both it and MI6 are targeting Islamic and black communities in Britain, this legislation undoubtedly will be used against all those deemed to be ‘enemies of the state’.
“What is particularly noticeable, however, is the muted response to this legislation from constitutional nationalist politicians in the Six Counties. Having previously signed up to a policing regime which incorporated a formal role for MI5 in Ireland, those parties’ silence on this latest erosion of civil and human rights is not at all surprising.”
“Once this legislation is enacted, these secret procedures will create processes that may look and sound like a trial or an inquest but in fact will be nothing of the sort. The core element of justice will be noticeably absent.
"Cases such as those relating to the infamous shoot-to-kill policy, collusion and even those like the Ballymurphy Massacre could all fall under the remit of this legislation.”