1. ITV Report

Government to press ahead with secret trial proposals

The Justice Secretary Ken Clarke Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville

The Government has stated its determination to go ahead with proposals set out in a green paper that would allow it to extend the use of closed-door trials despite strong opposition from MPs and civil rights groups.

Ken Clarke, the Justice Secretary, has defended the plans saying that there is no system in the world where spies give evidence in an open court. But he admitted there was more work to be done and promised that the Government would arrive at a "collective" decision.

The proposals concern the use of sensitive evidence - particularly that provided by intelligence agencies such as MI5 and MI6 - in open court cases. Currently, such evidence can be used rarely in 'closed material procedures' (CMP) but the Government would like the option of using such evidence in all civil proceedings.

This would involve closed-door trials in which the sensitive evidence would be withheld from the claimant and their lawyer as well as the general public. The Government stresses that such restrictions would only apply to a small number of cases where national security is at stake.

As I see it there are some significant gaps in our defences, because of the moving on of technology and in our defences because it isn’t currently possible to use intelligence information in a court without endangering national security. We will plug those gaps in a way that will protect civil liberties.

– David Cameron, Prime Minister

The influential Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) today published its response, arguing that it saw no "compelling evidence" to support the Coalition's plans.

Earlier today, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he could not support the plans in their current form. He said that the security services, like MI5 and MI6, "cannot be allowed to ride roughshod over the principles of open justice".

ITV News Political Correspondent Lucy Manning reports on the day's events:

The Government's desire to extend the use of closed-door trials stems from its legal battle with Binyam Mohamed - the UK citizen imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.

In order to avoid the disclosure of intelligence-related evidence in an open court, the Government agreed to pay Mohamed compensation, believed to be more than £1 million.

The Government aims to avoid future costly out-of-court settlements like this one.

Binyam Mohamad Credit: ITV News/Handout

Also at stake is the UK's relationship with the US. The Government would like to assure the US that intelligence-related evidence is safe in the UK court system.

Mr Clarke said that consultations are still taking place and that the Government will reach a "collective" decision on how to proceed - one that will also include the Deputy Prime Minister.

More on this story

  • The facts on closed-door trials

    The Government has set out plans to hold more trials and inquests behind closed doors in order to protect sensitive information. Why?