- What is the Government proposing?
The green paper contains controversial proposals to give ministers wide-ranging powers to hold court hearings and inquests behind closed doors, so long as the decision is agreed by a judge. The Justice Secretary Ken Clarke says it is intended only for a small number of cases where national security is at risk.
- Why is there a need for a change?
Ken Clarke says there is no system in the world where spies give evidence in open court. At the moment, the fact that MI5 and MI6 never put forward evidence in open court means the Government has to make multi-million pound settlements out of the courtroom.
It is also concerned that the current arrangement is harming the UK's intelligence relationship with the US.
- What would the changes involve?
Importantly, judges would be able to examine secret documents behind closed doors away from the public. One of the parties in the case, and their lawyer, would be unaware of the secret evidence being presented and what was being said about them.
- Are there any safeguards?
Judges would have the power to review the Government's assessment that the case in question really does concern national security.
- Who is opposing the changes?
The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg for one. He says he cannot back the changes in their current form, adding that the security services' concerns "cannot be allowed to ride roughshod over the principles of open justice".
The cross-party Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) says the Government has not shown the changes are necessary. Human rights groups have also said the secret hearings would frustrate efforts to get to the truth of serious allegations of human rights abuses.