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Intelligence Services (Court Proceedings)

Volume 547: debated on Tuesday 3 July 2012

3. What recent assessment he has made of arrangements for handling sensitive information from the intelligence services in court proceedings. (114719)

The Government have introduced the Justice and Security Bill to introduce a process by which such material may be considered by the courts in civil cases in future. The Bill is currently being considered and scrutinised in the House of Lords.

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. Does he agree that if we do not make reforms in this area we run the risk of allowing a substantial industry to develop in expensive legal claims, which we are forced to pay out of court because the Government are unable to defend themselves in open court?

The Bill stems from our recent experience in the so-called Guantanamo Bay cases, when a very large sum of money was paid out to satisfy claims and legal costs when the security and intelligence services insisted that they had an adequate defence. An increasing number of those cases are coming along, and it is not for me to pre-judge any of them, but I should like the judge to be able to hear all the evidence in the circumstances that are possible—closed material proceedings—so that we as citizens obtain some judgment in the end about the merits or otherwise of the complaint. We certainly must not encourage people to go along for both the political publicity and the potential funds that might flow from bringing a claim that they know cannot be defended.

On what basis has the Justice Secretary decided not to allow closed material proceedings at inquests? Surely if there is a highly sensitive piece of intelligence that would help to explain the cause of someone’s death, the coroner should be able to see that information, albeit on a protected basis.

We canvassed that proposal in the consultation, and I have considerable sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman’s view, but we have responded to the consultation, in which there were strong feelings against the procedure being applied to inquests—despite the support that we had from coroners’ associations.

The argument is that the coroner cannot consider such material in closed material proceedings because it means that the family, the press and other interested parties will not be able to hear what the spies have to say, and that is the basis on which we have introduced the Bill—we are a listening Government. But I did canvass the measure that the right hon. Gentleman proposes.