Wednesday 12 September 2012 by Jonathan Rayner

The UN special rapporteur on torture has become the latest high-profile figure to criticise UK government plans to require courts to hear evidence in closed proceedings where issues of national security are involved.

Professor Juan Mendez, speaking at the thinktank Chatham House on 10 September, said that so-called 'secret courts', as proposed in the Justice and Security Bill, could be used to suppress evidence of British collusion in torture. Mendez, who was himself tortured by the Argentine junta during that country's 'dirty war' in the 1970s, said: 'If a country is in possession of information about human rights abuses, but isn't in a position to mention them, it hampers the ability to deal effectively with torture.'

British ministers, including former justice secretary Kenneth Clarke, have defended the use of closed material proceedings on the grounds that they protect the UK's intelligence-sharing relationship with the US and other friendly governments. They argue that disclosing information obtained through covert means in court could put lives in jeopardy and expose sources of sensitive information.

In April, Parliament's joint committee on human rights said that the government's proposals would have a 'very considerable impact' on the reporting of matters of public interest and concern, and would reduce public confidence and trust 'in both the government and the courts'.

The Justice and Security Bill had its second hearing in the House of Lords in July. The Liberal Democrats continue to oppose it, maintaining that closed material procedures were not part of the Liberal Democrat or Conservative manifestos in 2010, or part of the coalition agreement.

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