NI: Secret court hearings double in a year according to MoJ figures

Belfast solicitor Kevin Winters of KRW Law

Applications for official secret court hearings in the UK have more than doubled over the past year, Ministry of Justice figures show.

The Guardian reports that in two cases “closed judgments”, where the full decision remains unpublished, were made.

These leave claimants without knowledge of why they won or lost their case.

Civil liberty groups have expressed concern that the government is using intelligence material to defend itself against torture and rendition claims.

The Justice and Security Act 2013 extended closed material procedure cases (CMPs) to the civil courts.

In 2013/14, there were five such cases. In the same period last year there were 11.

Closed hearings admit secret intelligence material but this can only be viewed by a judge and “special advocate”.

Further, special advocates are not allowed to disclose the exact details of any evidence and can only supply the “gist” of the evidence.

Nine of the 11 applications for secret hearings between June 2014 and this year were made by the secretaries of state for the Home Office, Foreign Office, MoJ or Northern Ireland Office.

Another two were made by the chief constable of Northern Ireland.

In one application a claim was made against Freddie Scappaticci, who was alleged to have been a high-ranking double agent in the IRA.

Other cases relate to operations by MI5 and MI6 conducted with former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s intelligence agencies.

Libyan dissidents as well as their families were kidnapped, some were allegedly tortured and Gaddafi’s agents were even invited to the UK to conduct their business which is said to have included intimidating refugees from Libya.

Belfast solicitor Kevin Winters of KRW Law, involved in the majority of the CMP cases relating to the Troubles, said: “Closed material procedures were never designed to be a default position for the state in defending complex and sensitive issues arising out of the conflict here.

“It was a process introduced by the Justice and Security Act 2013 to deal with ongoing discovery issues in present-day litigation arising out of current terrorist/political threats.

“We will resist the state’s attempt to shoehorn this mechanism in to try and shut down uncomfortable policing investigative issues from the past.”

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