More than 700 lawyers have signed an open letter calling on the government to drop its 'dangerous and unnecessary' plans to extend closed material procedures (CMPs).
The letter, published in today's Daily Mail, says that the proposals for secret courts set out in the Justice and Security Bill are 'contrary to the rule of law' and 'erode core principles of our civil justice system, including the right to a fair trial… and open justice'.
The letter adds that the procedures will 'fatally undermine' the courtroom as a forum in which allegations of wrongdoing can be fairly tested and the government 'transparently held to account'.
Closed proceedings were designed in response to claims by the security services that other countries will be unwilling to share intelligence with the UK if intelligence might later be disclosed in open court. It is proposed that CMPs will hear cases entirely in private, with no defendants or claimants present.
The latter will not know or be able to challenge the case against them and will be represented by a security-cleared special advocate, not their own lawyer.
CMPs are currently used in a small number of immigration and deportation hearings, but the government wants to extend them across the civil courts in cases believed to involve national security.
Law Society president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff told the Gazette last month that CMPs undermine an essential principle of justice, which is that all parties are entitled to see and challenge all of the evidence relied upon before the court, and to combat that evidence by calling evidence of their own.
The Society insists that the government has failed to make a national security case for extending CMPs to ordinary civil litigation.