My Lords, the United Kingdom’s security and intelligence services do superb work in keeping us safe. But if we are to be true to the democratic values that they fight to defend, it is right that their actions should be subject to proper judicial and parliamentary scrutiny.
Every Government must find a way to resolve the competing demands of liberty and security. It is one of the most important challenges to government, and one of its key responsibilities. We need to consider with great care how we strike that balance. I can assure your Lordships that in bringing forward the Bill, Ministers have sought to exercise the care required to strike that balance.
It is because the Government are not satisfied that our system is delivering this scrutiny as well as it should be that we are bringing forward the Justice and Security Bill. The Bill seeks to address three widely recognised problems. First, a number of civil cases cannot be heard by a judge because they hinge on national security-sensitive evidence that cannot be disclosed openly. At present the Government’s only options are to ask the courts to strike out such cases as untriable or to try to settle them, often for large sums of money, even where they believe that a case has no merit. Secondly, a remedy in intellectual property law has recently been extended to allow someone bringing a claim outside the United Kingdom to apply to a court in London to force disclosure of intelligence information held by the British, including information provided by our allies. This is already seriously undermining confidence among our most important partners, including the United States. Thirdly, oversight of the intelligence community lacks independence from the Executive and has too limited a remit to ensure full and effective accountability.
The response to these problems that I am outlining today has its origin in the Justice and Security Green Paper published last year and noble Lords will be aware that the proposals it contained were the subject of extensive debate by the public, stakeholders and the media. The Government listened carefully to the views received during that consultation. While many respondents acknowledged the underlying problems that our proposals were trying to sort out, there was also considerable concern that our plans for closed material procedures—so-called CMPs—were excessively broad in scope and risked undermining this country’s proud tradition of civil liberties.
The Government’s position has always been that protecting the public should not come at the expense of our freedoms. We have therefore extensively revised our proposals by narrowing their scope and strengthening safeguards. The case I want to make today is that the plans in the Bill are sensible, proportionate and targeted at a genuine and serious problem.
I take it that the noble and learned Lord is aware of the severe criticisms launched by Mr Andrew Tyrie, the Member of Parliament for Chichester. He has come to the conclusion that the proposals in the Bill,
“offend the principle of open justice”.
When the noble and learned Lord says that these issues have been ventilated, has he taken into account the views that have been expressed?
My Lords, I can assure the House that we are aware of the concerns expressed not just by Mr Tyrie but by a range of people during the consultation and subsequently. We have sought to wrestle with those concerns. I indicated that it is the age-old challenge between trying to balance the interests of security and liberty. I can assure the House that in presenting the Bill we have sought to wrestle with these issues and to come forward with a set of proposals that are sensible, proportionate and targeted at a genuine and serious problem.
I begin with the important matter of improved parliamentary and independent oversight of the security and intelligence agencies. The Intelligence and Security Committee does an excellent job of overseeing the administration, expenditure and policies of the agencies. I know that members of the committee are present here today and have put down their names to speak in the debate. However, the ISC operates within arrangements that were established by Parliament in 1994. In the past 18 years, and particularly since 9/11, the public profile and budgets of, and indeed operational demands on, the agencies have significantly increased, but there has been no change to the statutory arrangements in place for oversight.
Although in the past the ISC has overseen operational matters, it has done so relatively infrequently. The ISC has no explicit statutory locus to oversee such matters. Its statutory remit is also limited to oversight of the security and intelligence agencies, although it has long heard evidence from the wider intelligence community. The ISC currently reports only to the Prime Minister, who appoints its membership, and there are some limitations to the way it works. The heads of the security and intelligence agencies can, in certain circumstances, withhold information from it. The ISC is wrongly perceived by some to be a creature of the Executive, not least as it is funded and staffed by the Cabinet Office. We believe it is time to put the ISC on a much stronger footing and enhance its independence to strengthen the very valuable work it has done so far and give Parliament more effective oversight of the intelligence and security agencies.
Part 1 of the Bill extends the ISC’s statutory remit, clarifying that it will in future be able to oversee the agencies’ operations. It will also in future report to Parliament as well as to the Prime Minister. Its members will be appointed by Parliament, after nomination by the Prime Minister. In parallel, the Government intend to press ahead with the Green Paper proposals that the ISC is funded by Parliament, accommodated on the Parliamentary Estate and that its staff will have the status of parliamentary staff. Finally, the power to withhold information from the ISC moves to the Secretary of State responsible for that agency; in other words, to a democratically accountable representative. These may sound like technical changes but together they will help to ensure that we have effective, credible and genuinely independent oversight of the activities of the security and intelligence agencies, renewing public confidence that someone is watching the watchers on their behalf.
The provisions of the Bill that have to date probably prompted the most comment are in Part 2, including the use of closed material procedures. The Government are strongly committed to open and transparent justice. However, the courts have long accepted that sensitive intelligence material—for example, the names of security agents or information about techniques used by intelligence agencies—cannot be disclosed in open court. In the famous case in the last century of Scott v Scott, Viscount Haldane in the House of Lords acknowledged that exceptions to that principle of open and transparent justice,
“are themselves the outcome of a yet more fundamental principle that the chief object of courts of justice must be to secure that justice is done ... As the paramount object must always be to do justice, the general rule as to publicity, after all only the means to an end, must accordingly yield”.
Under current rules, the only available way of protecting sensitive intelligence material which would otherwise be disclosed, and which would damage the public interest if disclosed in open court, is to apply for public interest immunity. If such an application is successful, the result is the exclusion of that material from the court room. An example of the difficulties which may arise is where a case is so saturated in this type of sensitive material that the PII procedure removes the evidence that one side, either defendant or claimant, requires in order to make its case. The options, then, are not attractive. In judicial reviews, the Government may find themselves unable to defend an executive action taken to protect the public—for example, the exclusion from the United Kingdom of a suspected terrorist or gang lord—simply because they cannot explain their decision when defending it. Equally, claimants may find themselves unable to contest a decision taken against them. This is what Mr Justice Ouseley observed in the recent case of AHK and others where claimants were challenging decisions to refuse naturalisation. His Lordship noted that if the alternative to a CMP is,
“that the claimant is bound to lose, no matter how weak the grounds against him, there is obvious scope for unfairness towards the claimant”.
In claims for civil damages, typically against the Government, the defendant is either forced to seek to settle the case by paying out compensation, assuming the other side is willing to agree to settle, or it has to ask the court to strike out the case as untriable. The result is that these cases are not heard before a court at all. There is no independent judgment on very serious allegations about government actions. The recent settlement of the civil damages claims brought by the former Guantanamo Bay detainees underlines this point. The evidence on which the Government needed to rely in order to defend themselves was highly secret intelligence material, which could not be released in open court.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. The use of public interest applications is familiar to many of us, even in quite ordinary run-of-the-mill cases brought before a recorder. What is the best estimate the noble and learned Lord can give of the volume of applications where something more is required such as the closed material procedures now proposed?
My Lords, I am cautious about hazarding the estimate that the noble and learned Lord asks of me. In the Green Paper, we indicated that the kind of cases that we were looking at were 27 current claims. The most recent figures that I have, as of yesterday, show that the numbers have fluctuated somewhat since October 2011 at the publication of the Green Paper. Currently, there are estimated to be 29 live cases, which were of the type cited in the Green Paper. To give an estimate of the number of cases where sensitive information was central to the case, based on current cases handled by the Treasury Solicitor, there are 29 live cases but they exclude a number of appeals against executive actions that are currently stayed. There are 15 civil damages claims; three asset-freeze judicial reviews; seven exclusion judicial reviews; four lead naturalisation judicial reviews; and around 60 further naturalisation judicial reviews stayed behind these cases. I hope that gives the noble and learned Lord and the House an idea of the kind of figures that we are dealing with where we believe that sensitive information is central to the case, based on the estimate of the Treasury Solicitor at this time.
The recent settlement of the civil damages claims brought by the Guantanamo Bay detainees underlines the point that I was making. The evidence which the Government needed to rely on in order to defend themselves was highly secret intelligence material, which could not be released in open court. One option open to the Government would have been to claim PII over that material. If the PII claim had been successful, the Government would have succeeded in excluding a very large quantity of material, but material that they would have wanted to rely on to defend their position. The only practical option was to settle the claims for significant sums without admitting liability.
Although the numbers of these cases are small, they often contain extremely significant allegations about the actions of the Government and the security and intelligence agencies. There is a real public interest in being able to get to the truth of such allegations. Indeed, I think it is arguable to say that the rule of law is supported by courts being able to reach determinations on such matters. Although such settlements are often made without any admission of liability being made, as we all know, mud sticks. Allegations have been made in public that have never been examined or rebutted, and many people choose to believe that they are true. The damage to the reputation of this country can be immense and those unrebutted allegations can be used by individuals seeking to garner support for terrorism in retaliation for perceived wrongdoing by this country.
This is the backdrop against which our plans to allow material to be heard in court via CMPs should be seen.
Perhaps my noble and learned friend would explain how the public would be more informed and the allegations of wrongdoing on the part of the Government would be exploded by the use of CMP procedures when, by definition, it would all remain secret.
My Lords, the point I was seeking to make is that if one goes down the route of PII, the issues will never be tested at all. It may be that so much material has to be withheld that it is not possible for a determination to be made and the Government may be forced to settle. I do not believe that that enhances the confidence of the public in the security services.
It is an irony somewhat overshadowed by the controversy over CMPs that, before recent developments in case law, courts were themselves successfully using this approach in civil cases where sensitive evidence was involved to ensure it could be heard but also considered and tested. For example, a peace campaigner called Maya Evans sought to challenge United Kingdom policy in relation to the transfer to the Afghan authorities of suspected insurgents detained by UK Armed Forces in the course of operations in Afghanistan.
I take the noble and learned Lord’s argument and I accept the need for having the closed material procedures in relation to information of sufficient sensitivity, but why would equivalent information of the same sensitivity not require the same protection in an inquest?
My Lords, as my noble friend knows, these issues were canvassed in the course of the consultation. A considerable number of representations were received indicating that this would not be appropriate in the context of inquests and, of course, PII would apply and would be available. The Government listened to those representations and responded to them by not having inquests covered within the ambit and scope of the Bill.
I was explaining the question on that particular case. An allegation was made that people transferred into Afghan custody were and continue to be at real risk of torture or serious mistreatment and that the practice of transfer was therefore unlawful. There was a CMP for part of the proceedings, with the consent of all parties. After examining all the relevant evidence, the judge concluded that transfers into Afghan custody at two sites could continue only provided that a number of additional safeguards were observed, and that a moratorium on transfers to another site should continue until there were clear improvements that would reduce the risks of mistreatment. In his judgment, Lord Justice Richards paid tribute to the way that the case had ultimately been conducted by all concerned and the Secretary of State’s conscientious approach to disclosure.
I have indicated that there was a consultation. There was strong representation that it would not be appropriate to have this kind of procedure in inquests. My main line of defence is that we listened to the consultation and responded to it. I believe that the right judgment was made.
I draw the attention of noble Lords to the Companion which says that,
“frequent interventions should not be made, even with the consent of the member speaking”.
This has the taste of a House of Commons debate about it. The convention of this House is not for frequent interventions.
Is not the answer to those noble Lords who have asked these questions quite simply that the right to life under the European convention requires particular requirements of openness and transparency, and therefore there is a strong case for separating inquests anyway?
There is a strong case, and having heeded the representations, we took that particular route.
I was trying to explain that CMPs have been part of our legal system sometimes by agreement in civil cases and that is compatible with the interests of justice, so why bring forward the Bill? The reason is that the Supreme Court last year, in a case called Al Rawi, held that a court is not entitled to adopt a closed material procedure in ordinary civil claims for damages. The court held that it was for Parliament, not the courts, to decide where closed material procedures should be available. The consequence has been that we are no longer able to rely on the ability of the courts to find their own way through this difficult issue of disclosure.
Hence the provisions in Part 2 of the Bill, which seek to respond to this challenge in a proportionate and targeted manner. It makes CMPs available in narrow circumstances—namely, in civil proceedings in the High Court, Court of Appeal and Court of Session, where material is relevant to those proceedings, disclosure of which would damage the interests of national security. Importantly, it will be only after the Secretary of State has considered whether a claim for public interest immunity should be made. In line with a recommendation of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Part 2 also allows for the transfer of judicial reviews of exclusion, naturalisation and citizenship decisions to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which has well established closed procedures.
Under the plans, where the Secretary of State applies for a CMP in civil cases, it will be for a judge to declare whether a CMP may be used. The judge will make this declaration on the basis only of national security considerations, not crime or international relations. Inquests, as we have indicated, have been excluded, and we were never intending to make CMPs available in the criminal courts.
Let me stress the safeguards that will apply. The Secretary of State will first have to consider whether the material can be dealt with by making a claim for public interest immunity. This will be a legally binding obligation and failure to comply can be judicially reviewed in the courts. The Secretary of State will then apply to a judge, and that judge will declare whether in principle a CMP may be used. That judge is the decision-maker. He or she must be satisfied that there was material relevant to the case, the disclosure of which would damage national security.
Once the judge has taken a decision in principle that a CMP may be used, a second exercise will take place in relation to the individual pieces of evidence which he decides are national security sensitive, following representations by a special advocate whose job is to act in the interests of the claimant. The judge will determine the treatment of each piece, whether redacting individual names or sentences would allow the evidence to be heard in open, or whether a summary of the evidence withheld must be made available to the other party and so on. The Bill does not upset the established position that it is for Ministers to decide whether to claim PII. Consequently, it should be the responsibility of the Secretary of State to apply for a declaration to the court that a closed material procedure may be used.
Some suggest that the Government may choose between claiming PII and applying for a closed material procedure opportunistically. Some say that the Government would apply for a closed material procedure where the material was helpful to the Government on the basis that the material could be considered by the court and that the Government would claim PII where the material was unhelpful so that, if successful, the PII claim would exclude that material from consideration.
It is not a realistic concern. The intention behind the closed material procedure proposals is precisely so that allegations made against the Government are investigated and scrutinised by the courts. The intention is that all relevant material—helpful or unhelpful—will be before the courts. It is hard to see that a judge assessing a PII claim would conclude that material should be excluded if the Government were seeking cynically to use PII to exclude material that undermined its case when a closed material procedure was available as an alternative.
The Bill makes absolutely clear that the court must act in accordance with the obligations under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights—the right to a fair trial. The overall effect will be that in practice all evidence currently heard in open court will in consequence of the CMP provisions continue to be heard in open court, including allegations against the state. In reality, claimants will receive as much information where there is a CMP as they would following a PII exercise.
A number of respondents to the consultation made the points that CMPs are a departure from the tried and tested fundamentals of open justice. I agree. No Government propose measures in this area lightly. However, as we have seen, CMPs are already used in our justice system, and have been endorsed by both domestic and international courts for the good reason that they provide a fairer outcome when the alternative is simply silence—no judgment at all and no questions answered.
Briefly, I move on to the final set of provisions in the Bill—namely, ensuring the protection of our intelligence-sharing relationships and our domestically generated intelligence through reform of an area of law that is known as the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction. The Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction grew up in the sphere of intellectual property law, where it is used to force a third party who—however innocently—is mixed up in suspected wrongdoing, to disclose information that a claimant feels may be relevant to a case that they are bringing elsewhere.
However, in 2008 a particularly innovative group of lawyers sought, in the case of Binyam Mohamed, to extend this jurisdiction to argue disclosure of sensitive intelligence information held by the British, including that provided in confidence by our allies. A specific right to the disclosure of intelligence services information has been ruled out by Parliament in the Freedom of Information Act and the Official Secrets Act. Yet, since Binyam Mohamed, there have been no fewer than nine attempts to use this jurisdiction in relation to sensitive information, including secret intelligence.
What is particularly troubling about this area of law is that, as the purpose of the proceedings is solely to gain disclosure of material, the Government do not have the option to withdraw from or settle the proceedings. If a judge orders disclosure, there is no option but for the Government to release the secret intelligence. Those who cannot keep secrets soon stop being told secrets. We expect our allies to protect intelligence material that we share with them from disclosure, and they expect the same from us. It is a regrettable fact that uncertainty about our ability to properly protect classified information provided by foreign Governments has undermined confidence among key allies, including the United States. In some cases, measures have already been put in place to regulate or restrict intelligence exchanges.
This is not just about material from overseas partners. We also need to protect from disclosure United Kingdom-generated sensitive material, which, if disclosed, could reveal the identity of United Kingdom officers or their sources and capabilities. To give but one example, not only could disclosure of sensitive intelligence derived from a UK human source jeopardise an ongoing intelligence dividend from that source, it could also blow the source’s cover, putting his or her life at risk. Our intelligence agencies cannot operate effectively if they cannot offer their sources protection. Norwich Pharmacal is the wrong tool for national security cases. The Government must regain the discretion to decide what the best way of assisting someone should be. Unless we address this situation robustly, the UK will continue to be seen as a soft touch by those wanting to get access to sensitive information. Our allies will—
Yes, me of all people, but I am entitled to seek information. The noble and learned Lord mentioned the Freedom of Information Act and people seeking access through that Act. Is it the case that someone living abroad can make an application under the Freedom of Information Act to information officers over here, including those in Parliament? I hope that I have been brief enough for the noble and learned Lord.
I cannot give an immediate answer to that question, but I suspect that it may be the case. The important point in this context, as I have just indicated, is that Parliament has decided that, under the Freedom of Information Act, a specific right to the disclosure of intelligence services information has been ruled out, irrespective of where the applicant comes from.
That is why the Government intend to legislate to exempt from disclosures under a Norwich Pharmacal application material held by, originating from or relating to an intelligence service defined as including the intelligence agencies and those parts of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces or the Ministry of Defence that engage in intelligence activities, or if the Minister has certified that it would cause damage to national security or international relations if it were disclosed. I seek to reassure the House that these measures will have no impact on claims that the Government or the security and intelligence agencies have been directly involved in wrongdoing; nor do they prevent someone enforcing their convention rights, and nor do they exempt the agencies from their disclosure obligations in other civil cases. We are not seeking to abolish an ancient right. The Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction has existed only since the 1970s and it has been found to apply in national security cases only since 2008. Our reforms will affect the jurisdiction only in so far as it applies to national security and international relations.
In conclusion, the Bill seeks to reshape the way we scrutinise the actions of our security and intelligence agencies both inside and outside the courts. The Bill raises significant issues about how we can best achieve that scrutiny, and what should be the respective roles of Government, Parliament and the courts. As I have said, the Green Paper that preceded this Bill prompted much public debate. The Government listened carefully to that debate and have responded by amending their proposals, including taking up a number of suggestions made in a useful report published by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, a number of whose members I am sure will contribute to this debate. There has also been an important report from the Constitution Committee, to which we intend to respond soon.
I think that the provisions in this Bill are a measured and proportionate response to the challenges I described earlier. We need to ensure that the courts can secure that justice is done. We must maintain the rule of law and ensure that proceedings are fair for all parties to the case. We must protect information that is shared with us in confidence, particularly if it would inhibit the ability of our security and intelligence agencies to keep us all safe if there is a risk that it could be disclosed, and we must make sure that those we trust to oversee the work of the agencies on our behalf have the powers to do an effective job and are able to command public confidence.
I look forward to what I am sure will be a thorough and instructive debate both today and as we proceed into Committee on how we meet those challenges and seek to balance the age-old tension between liberty and security. I commend the Bill to the House and I beg to move.
My Lords, the House will join me in congratulating the noble and learned Lord on a typically lucid exposition of a very complex Bill. In his closing speech at the end of the Second Reading debate on the Crime and Courts Bill, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, made a gracious but utterly misguided reference to me as a “distinguished lawyer”. I have no pretensions whatever to such a description. Fortunately, particularly having regard to the Bill we are debating today, this House is not lacking in expertise of the highest order, including as it does eminent legal practitioners, former senior members of the judiciary and others with ministerial, political or professional experience of the intelligence and security world. The latter category embraces, among others, six Members who have served on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, whose report on the Government’s Green Paper is required reading, especially for those who, like myself, are seeking to get to grips with this hitherto unfamiliar world.
The very Title of the Bill, juxtaposing as it does two desiderata, justice and security, reflects the dualism with which the legislature has to contend, calibrating as we must the balance between two principles which are potentially in conflict. By its nature, this is a topic in which, as the Government proclaimed at the outset, consensus is highly desirable, if not essential. The Joint Committee managed to achieve just such a consensus on the Government’s original proposals, as did the Constitution Committee. It is perhaps unfortunate that the Government chose to proceed from the Green Paper straight to a Bill without first seeking to achieve that broad consensus they had adumbrated, but we are where we are.
I pay tribute to the Government for responding to some of the concerns raised by the Joint Committee and others, notably in relation to restricting closed material procedures to matters of national security and to abandoning proposals for secret inquests, although that may not be universally approved. However, the question for the House to consider is whether the Government have gone far enough—in particular, in relation to making the case for the proposed extension of closed material procedures to further categories.
The process appears to bear the hallmark of the Lord Chancellor, a larger-than-life figure whom his party, many of us think, twice mistakenly rejected as its leader. He is what one might describe as a practitioner of the John Lewis-style of politics—never knowingly understated—and is perhaps inclined to be a little cavalier. Let us consider paragraphs 26 and 27 of the Joint Committee report, in which the committee commented on the Government’s initial refusal to publish the responses they received to the Green Paper—perhaps an ironic echo of the closed material procedure, which is one of the most controversial parts of the Bill. On the claim that “improved executive accountability” would be advanced by the Government’s proposals, the committee comments in paragraph 212:
“With the exception of the ministers, not a single witness in our inquiry suggested that the proposals in the Green Paper will improve the accountability of the executive”.
Let us consider further the initial refusal to disclose to the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation papers relating to the 20 cases on which the Government purported to rely in support of their proposals.
My noble friend Lady Smith will deal with Part 1 of the Bill when she winds up for the Opposition. In relation to that part, therefore, I confine myself to asking whether the changes proposed in relation to the Intelligence and Security Committee, some of which are welcome, do enough to strengthen parliamentary oversight of intelligence and security activities and, in particular, whether the membership criteria should not perhaps reduce the role of former Ministers and provide for limited terms of office so as to underline the committee’s independence of both the Executive and the relevant services, and to allow some refreshment of that membership from time to time. In raising those questions, I of course pay tribute to present and past members of the committee who have sought—and seek—conscientiously to fulfil their role.
I now turn to the most difficult parts of the Bill; first, those dealing with closed material procedures—or applications, in the first instance—under which the Secretary of State may apply to the court for an order in any civil case excluding the disclosure of evidence to a party except to a special advocate, if such disclosure would be damaging to national security. There is a broad view that this effectively will tie the hands of the trial judge.
The second area relates to the so-called Norwich Pharmacal cases, about which the noble and learned Lord closed his opening address. As he indicated, these prevent the disclosure of “sensitive information” which the Secretary of State certifies it would be contrary to the interests of national security or international relations to disclose. In those cases, a party seeks an order for disclosure of evidence in order to pursue or defend a case against a third party, possibly outside the jurisdiction, as in the cases that have attracted attention thus far, where the defendant—that is, the Government—is to some degree mixed up in events; perhaps quite innocently they have come into possession of information. We certainly agree that there is an issue here that needs to be addressed and a case for regularising the situation created by the Norwich Pharmacal cases. The question, of course, is whether the Government’s approach is proportionate.
In that connection, Clause 13(3)(a) and (d) appear to go much further than would, on the face of it, be desirable, barring as they do disclosure of any information held by or relating to the intelligence service. That is a very broad definition. Again, it is surely necessary for the role of the judge in deciding on an application not to be more apparent than real so as to ensure a strong judicial check on the information to be exempt.
Of course, it is natural and reasonable for the intelligence and security services to operate in these matters on the precautionary principle. However, it is surely a step too far to accept that their view must be unchallengeable in all circumstances. After all, elements within the service, although not the service itself, have occasionally demonstrated a capacity to follow their own inclinations, sometimes of a political nature, whether of the left or right. One has only to think of the generation of Soviet agents recruited from Cambridge—I am relieved to say—in the 1930s, or the Zinoviev letter of the 1920s and the campaign waged against Harold Wilson by elements within the Security Service.
Even more important are the questions about the definition of national security and of sensitive information —obvious enough in military cases, but what else might the terms encompass? Should concern for international relations prevent the disclosure of information tending to show unlawful conduct—for example, the use of torture by a foreign power? How are the interests of justice to be preserved and, moreover, to be seen to be preserved? This is an area to which the Joint Committee report drew attention in its closing section. It referred to:
“The impact on media freedom and democratic accountability”,
and drew particular and highly critical attention to the Government’s position, to which the Government’s response was, frankly, extremely weak and unconvincing.
The Joint Committee rightly called for legislation to facilitate the admissibility of intercept evidence to be brought forward urgently. However, its main thrust was to criticise the approach to closed material procedures and the Norwich Pharmacal cases. It makes a strong case that the need to extend closed material procedures beyond the very limited categories to which it applies at present—for example, as the noble and learned Lord reminded us, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, and there some other areas too—is not based on robust evidence. Further, it argues that the Government are wrong to discount the public interest immunity procedure, under which, as the noble and learned Lord indicated, the Government can always decide not to disclose their arguments, albeit potentially at the cost of having to settle or lose their case.
It is surely not good enough for the Government to plead in their response to the committee that the public would prefer the Government to be able to defend themselves and allow cases to continue to judgment, rather than be settled at greater expense to the public purse. That is to place too heavy a weight on financial considerations, your Lordships might think. In any event, the committee found a,
“troubling lack of evidence of any actual cases demonstrating the problem”,
which the Government seek to solve. It was also concerned by the vagueness of the evidence on which they rely.
In relation to the closed material procedure, the whole process conflicts with the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kerr. He said:
“The central fallacy of the argument, however, lies in the unspoken assumption that, because the judge sees everything, he is bound to be in a better position to reach a fair result. That assumption is misplaced. To be truly valuable, evidence must be capable of withstanding challenge”.
“I go further. Evidence which has been insulated from challenge may positively mislead. It is precisely because of this that the right to know the case that one’s opponent makes and to have the opportunity to challenge it occupies such a central place in the concept of a fair trial”.
The committee clearly leans towards a modified public interest immunity procedure as an alternative, perhaps including redactions, confidentiality, restricted publicity and “in private” hearings. I commend further consideration of that approach.
In relation to the Norwich Pharmacal cases, the committee rejects the proposed effective ouster, as some would see it, of the court’s jurisdiction to authorise disclosure. Its preferred option is for the public interest immunity procedure to be applied where issues of national security arise in cases where a party seeks disclosure of evidence material to his case in another jurisdiction. In paragraph 192 of its report, the committee sets out how this might be achieved. It suggests, as an alternative to other proposals, a rebuttable presumption against disclosure of national security-sensitive information, a test for when the presumption can be rebutted and an agreed list of factors which the court should take into account in determining whether the presumption is to be rebutted.
As I have indicated, there is certainly here an issue which needs to be addressed and a case for regularising the Norwich Pharmacal situation. Again, the question is whether the Government’s approach is proportionate and whether the evidence on which they base it is robust. There is a case for qualified exemptions to the residual disclosure jurisdiction, but the House will wish carefully to scrutinise the detail of the Government’s proposals and, again, so far as it can, the evidence on which they are based.
In respect of closed material procedures, the question is whether under the Bill as it stands we would end up with a major incursion into the right to a fair trial of issues before the courts, impacting on civil justice rather than preventing damage to national security, which can be and has been achieved in other ways. The Bill’s provisions, after all, represent a fundamental change to our system of civil justice and to the rights of parties. Even the parliamentary website headlines today’s debate as being about “secret hearings”—a somewhat Kafkaesque description which may nevertheless strike a chord with Members of your Lordships’ House.
We must also take note of the independent reviewer’s statement that he,
“deprecated the tendency of Ministers to characterise their CMP proposals as justified by national security … as a scare tactic in order to achieve its unrelated proposals on secret civil trials”.
Crucially, he added:
“Existing PII procedures do not risk compromising foreign intelligence. The secret trial proposals must stand or fall by their ability to produce just outcomes”.
Although Mr Anderson was eventually allowed limited access to some case material and concluded that there is a case for extending CMP, again crucially, he remains convinced that the decision is one for the judge and not the Executive—a point made forcefully by Mr Andrew Tyrie, to whom my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis made reference, in his analysis of what he described as,
“the inadequacy of the Government’s concessions”.
In conclusion, in the week in which we welcome Aung San Suu Kyi to address both Houses, I very much look forward to listening to the diverse arguments and opinions of Members of this House as we debate these complex and difficult issues of jurisprudence and public policy. I know that in the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, we have a thoughtful and sensitive interlocutor, and I hope that, collectively, we might reach a satisfactory conclusion. So far, about the only substantial consensus appears to be a consensus of the concerned, ranging across the political divide—as exemplified by articles in this week’s House Magazine from the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and a powerful critique from Mr Tyrie—to civil liberties organisations, the Law Society and nearly all the special advocates. It is now for the legislature to seek to build a consensus around such change as can be justified as being essential to protect the public, for which the evidential bar is necessarily high and in which the rights of the citizen or claimant are adequately protected. In that process, your Lordships’ House is perhaps uniquely well placed to lead the debate.
My Lords, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, about whether his qualifications entitle him to address this House. He is an extremely experienced member of the legal profession who has considerable experience at the heart of the legal profession.
The Bill deals with justice and security. It deals with those two in the opposite order to the title. Although I had the responsibility of introducing the first Bill to Parliament to regulate the security services, I do not propose to get involved in that part of the Bill, but rather in the parts that deal with justice—in particular, Clauses 6 and 13.
I can claim some experience, a long time ago, in the area of public interest immunity. I had the responsibility of informing this House in 1996 that the Government had decided to depart from the old distinction between class cases and content cases in relation to public interest immunity and to concentrate on only one type of public interest immunity: where the specified documents could damage the public interest if disclosed. I am humbled by the remembrance that the junior in one of the cases on public immunity I took before the Appellate Committee of this House has just retired as a member of the Supreme Court. That shows that that was not yesterday.
The doctrine of public interest immunity is a doctrine of substantive law which has a long history and was recognised by Parliament more than once, but particularly in the Crown Proceedings Act. The way the system operates is that the Secretary of State asks for a public interest immunity certificate to be issued in respect of material which would otherwise be disclosed or matters which would be answered orally. He has to decide whether, in his judgment, on the facts of the particular case, those disclosures would damage the public interest.
For a while, it was thought that those certificates should be conclusive, but in a landmark case, Conway v Rimmer, in this jurisdiction, and very much earlier in the northern jurisdiction, it was decided that the certificate would not necessarily be conclusive if the area in question was such as to be central to the determination of the case. The method of dealing with that devised in Conway v Rimmer was that the judge or judges concerned with the case looked at the documents apart from any other party to the case except the person who had responsibility for production and the Secretary of State who had claimed the immunity, so that a degree of secret trial, if you like, has been long established in relation to public interest immunity.
If a public interest immunity certificate was granted in respect of the disclosure of particular information and it was held that it should succeed—in other words, that the balancing exercise of justice to the particular claimant came down in favour of the Secretary of State—that evidence was excluded altogether from the case. That is of itself a type of damage to a completely fair trial, because normally one is entitled to use all the relevant evidence in determining the issues, but a public interest immunity certificate, long established in law, has the effect of completely excluding that evidence, whether it helps or hinders the case of the Government or any other party. So one starts in this area with a system under which a very serious innovation is made to the ordinary rules that in civil cases all relevant evidence is available.
In my view, Clause 6 brings in a new system that is generally available in relation to national security only. It does not bring in any such system in relation to public interest immunity generally. It is only in relation to damage to national security that this arises. The obligations are that when a document is thought by the Secretary of State to be damaging to national security, he can apply to the court in any civil proceedings for a declaration that the case is one in which closed procedure should be allowed. The decision on that point is one for the judge as to whether the disclosure which is required to be made will damage the public interest. A judge of course has a jurisdiction in relation to the nature of the disclosure that has to be made, because it is fundamental to this whole thing that there is an obligation to disclose on the part of what is called the relevant person.
Reference has been made to Mr Andrew Tyrie in the course of the deliberations. I had the privilege of a very full conversation with Mr Andrew Tyrie on the telephone this morning, after receiving a number of communications from him. He rang me up because I had told him in rather brief terms what I was proposing to say about it. I had a full discussion with him, the result of which causes me to emphasise that it is important that the judge in the case has a jurisdiction to decide what has to be disclosed. For example, if it is possible to remove the difficulty by redaction or some other procedure of that kind then the whole difficulty disappears and closed procedure would not be necessary. It is only when there is a residue of material that the judge considers is required to be disclosed and considers that the necessary disclosure would be damaging to national security that this procedure is available. When it is available, it is of course a closed procedure in the sense that it has only the party producing the documents—the Secretary of State—and no other, the other party being represented by a special advocate. The special advocates have made observations about this, which I shall mention in a moment. There is quite elaborate provision for what this procedure is. I want to draw attention to that because it is quite important that we do not lose sight of this matter as it is set out in Clause 7.
Clause 7 contains provisions arising out of the closed procedure and its subsections (3)(a) and (3)(b) are of great importance. I should say that these provisions are to be introduced by rules of court; I will have a word to say about that at the end of my observations. Clause 7(3) says that the court “must be authorised” by rules of court,
“(a) if it considers that the material or anything that is required to be summarised might adversely affect the relevant person’s case or support the case of another party to the proceedings, to direct that the relevant person—
(i) is not to rely on such points in that person’s case, or
(ii) is to make such concessions or take such other steps as the court may specify”.
Now, the court hears this evidence in the absence of the other party, but let us say that the court is satisfied that in the course of this work by government agencies something is wrong. The court could insist that the Government could no longer maintain a case that there was nothing wrong. These are very powerful inferences from the evidence to be heard. They are very much better than the evidence being excluded altogether. I know of one case where, if the evidence had been excluded altogether, the case for the Government might have gone ahead, whereas when it was, in fact, not excluded, the Government’s case collapsed. That is what this allows the court to do, by order. So there are two branches to subsection (3)(a).
Subsection (3)(b) says,
“in any other case, to ensure that the relevant person does not rely on the material or (as the case may be) on that which is required to be summarised”.
The court is therefore able to decide that the person in question—that is, the relevant person with the documentation—does not rely on the evidence which is being heard in the closed procedure.
I have only summarised these provisions. They are a great improvement in the case to which they reply to the present situation, where the relevant evidence is excluded altogether, and no inference one way or the other can be drawn from it. My submission to your Lordships is that this closed procedure is an advantage over the present situation and is subject to a good deal of safeguard in the fact that it is the judge who decides what the disclosures have to be and whether they will in fact damage national security. In my discussions with Andrew Tyrie this morning, he was concerned that I should emphasise these points. I think that he had the impression that they may not have been sufficiently emphasised already.
I turn to Clause 13 and the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction which was recognised as an authority in 1974 in a case of that name which went to the House of Lords. It was a simple case in a way. Norwich Pharmacal had a patent and discovered that patented material was being imported into the United Kingdom. It could not find out who the importer was, and thought, “It must come through Customs and Excise, and so Customs and Excise must have a note of who the importers are”. It applied to the Court and to the House of Lords. Lord Reid, a distinguished Scottish judge, Lord Kilbrandon, another distinguished Scottish judge, and others, decided that Customs and Excise should reveal to Norwich Pharmacal the name of the importer, so that it could take the necessary proceedings.
That seems to be a very straightforward principle. The Explanatory Memorandum says that it does not apply in Scotland. I am not sure why that statement was made, but anyway, it does not matter very much, because the cases that are the subject of the Green Paper and the like have all taken place in this jurisdiction.
Clause 13 describes the jurisdiction, I hope, in accordance with what I have just said:
“This section applies where, by way of civil proceedings, a person (‘A’) seeks the disclosure of information by another person (‘B’) on the grounds that … wrongdoing by another person (‘C’) has, or may have, occurred … B was involved with the carrying out of the wrongdoing (whether innocently or not)”—
the Customs and Excise people were concerned at the import of this, that B was not involved in wrongdoing but was merely carrying out their own responsibility—
“and … the disclosure is reasonably necessary to enable redress to be obtained or a defence to be relied on in connection with the wrongdoing”.
It goes on to say:
“A court may not, in exercise of its residual disclosure jurisdiction, order the disclosure of information sought … if the information is sensitive information”.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, that the description of “sensitive information” seems extremely wide, and I have questioned whether it is necessary to have it anything like so wide. Clause 13(3)(a) to (d), as the noble Lord said, relate to various aspects of the Security Services, while (e) is for a specified certificate in which the Secretary of State has to consider that it would be contrary to the public interest for the information to be disclosed because of the interests of national security or—and here is the extra—the interests of the international relations of the UK. We know that it is the relationships particularly with the United States, though not only those, that are the issue here. For my part, subject to anything that my noble friend or others may say, I cannot see why the provision needs to go beyond the certification procedure of Clause 13(3)(e).
I have one other rather technical point. This provision is restricted to the residual disclosure jurisdiction of the courts, which means,
“any jurisdiction to order the disclosure of information which is not specifically conferred as such a jurisdiction by or under an enactment”.
That, I think, is intended to describe the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction. I question whether it is effective for that purpose, because the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction was established and quite clearly recognised in 1974. In the Supreme Court Act 1981, the Court was specifically empowered to exercise all the powers that it previously had. Norwich Pharmacal is included in that for the Court of Appeal and the High Court. I question whether this is an effective description of the jurisdiction. There is of course provision for judicial review of the certificates, which are regarded as quite important.
My final point is that in Part 2 of Schedule 3, on the closed material procedure, paragraph 3(1) provides that the Lord Chancellor may make the first rules of court himself. For my part, I would prefer that the rules of court were made by the court authorities that make rules of court ordinarily. I gather that the reason for this is possibly that Parliament might like to see a draft of these rules before the Bill is finalised, and that the committees of the court might not be willing to provide such a draft. I would have thought, though, that on the whole it would be wiser if the ordinary procedures for rules of court were used. I entirely trust these methods. Of course I entirely trust the Lord Chancellor, but in this case it would be better to use the established methods.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a practising barrister. Indeed, I think I was involved in the first case in which public interest immunity procedures were developed following the case of Johnson in January 1993. I was then instructed by the CPS and the security services to prosecute a number of letter bombers who had distributed letter bombs to important and prominent people in north Wales.
I welcome the proposed reforms of the Intelligence and Security Committee, subject to the pertinent criticisms that I know my noble friend Lord Macdonald will advance and which we hope will lead to improvements in the provisions. I intend to confine myself to the second part of the Bill, which deals with CMPs. In a criminal trial, the judge does not decide the facts; he does not decide what happened. The jury hears the evidence presented to it, almost always in open court, and it must be both admissible and relevant.
If either the prosecution or the defence questions the admissibility or relevance of any evidence that the other seeks to adduce, there is an argument in the absence of the jury, and the judge gives a ruling. The judge in a criminal trial may be, and usually is, in possession of information, such as the previous convictions of the accused or evidence that he has ruled to be inadmissible or irrelevant, that the jury—the judges of the facts—never hear and which therefore play no part in its decision. The judge may also know of secret matters, which are never released, even to the defence, because the prosecution successfully claims public interest immunity from disclosure. In a criminal trial, the judge carries out a balancing test between the interests of justice and the interests of national security or other public interest. Crucially, in a criminal case the secret material plays no part in the jury’s decision because it does not know about it.
In the vast majority of civil trials, on the other hand, there is no jury. The judge decides the facts, and in applying the law gives a reasoned judgment in favour of one side or the other. Very often he will hear evidence that is prejudicial to one side or another which he deems to be inadmissible or irrelevant, and in these very common circumstances he is trained to ignore such evidence and to put it out of his mind altogether in coming to his conclusions. Invariably, in the course of giving a ruling or a judgment, he will openly and transparently say so.
Part 2 of this Bill is primarily concerned with actions brought by an individual against the state for damages for human rights violations such as torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, false imprisonment, illegal renditions, or complicity in such violations in other jurisdictions. This Bill proposes that the judge should hear secret material from one party, the state, which is withheld altogether from the other party, the claimant. In complete distinction from public interest immunity applications, whether in criminal or civil procedures at present, and rulings on inadmissible or irrelevant evidence, the secret material proposed in this Bill is not to be disregarded or put out of the judge’s mind. On the contrary, the state claims that the secret material should play a part, perhaps even a crucial and central part, in the judge’s ultimate decision on the case before him. Your Lordships will appreciate that this is therefore a very considerable step.
There is an obvious unfairness to the claimant, who cannot answer or test any allegations that may be contained in the secret material. In addition, it is against the public interest generally that the state should hide its case behind a cloak of secrecy and therefore potentially hide its misdeeds, or give the appearance that it is so doing.
It is argued, however, that the claimant can be protected through the closed material procedures that have been developed whereby the state brings an individual before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission in immigration and in other naturalisation and extradition matters. I must tell your Lordships that I opposed these procedures in June 1997, at the Second Reading of the SIAC Bill, on the basis that it was a straightforward breach of natural justice that proceedings should be held in the absence of the appellant or of any legal representative who is instructed by him. I questioned whether a special advocate appointed by the Attorney-General would ever be able to take the appellant’s instructions, to have confidentiality with his client, or to have the benefit of legal professional privilege. The model later adopted was that he most certainly would not have those standard requirements of a lawyer, which is repeated in this Bill.
The body of special advocates, security cleared and appointed by the law officers, and now with 15 years’ collective experience of the system in action, have unanimously opposed the extension of CMPs to civil proceedings of this nature. They rejected the argument set out in the Green Paper that:
“A judgment based on the full facts is more likely to secure justice than a judgment based only on a proportion of relevant material”.
It was rejected on the grounds on which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kerr, in the Supreme Court in al-Rawi rejected it. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, quoted his judgment, but I will not repeat it.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Kerr, pointed out that the right to know and the right to challenge the other side’s evidence is essential to the concept of a fair trial. The special advocates said that his reasoning reflected their experience as special advocates operating in existing CMPs. They added this important point:
“Our knowledge of the nature of closed material makes us doubt that most of it could be admissible as truth of its contents in civil proceedings, on an application of established rules of admissibility. Such documentary evidence”,
which they have seen,
“routinely contains information which may be second or third hand, and of which the primary source will usually be unidentified (and may be unknown) … It scarcely seems worth applying CMPs to civil proceedings if the evidence concerned will be largely inadmissible as evidence of the truth of its contents (or to which no weight can be attached)”.
In addition to the argument on principle, there is a practical side to this issue. Ninety-five per cent of civil litigation settles. When the pleadings that set out the issues clearly between the parties have been completed and all the documents have been disclosed, as there is an obligation to disclose all the documents relevant to a case, the lawyers on both sides will assess the risks of the litigation and generally can and do come to a compromise based on their assessment of risk in 95% of civil litigation. Settlement may not give both sides all that they want, but sometimes it arrives at satisfactory solutions that are beyond the scope of the trial judge, who can award only the remedies pleaded in the pleadings. One very relevant example of that is that a confidentiality agreement can be entered into on a settlement.
I am most grateful for that intervention. Perhaps I may add my welcome and that of these Benches to all visitors, whatever they may be, who come to listen to our proceedings.
Settlement in civil proceedings, which generally happens, is threatened by these procedures. It is ironic that the motivation behind this Bill is that the Government dislike settlements. They demand a judgment, so they say, to clear the air and to banish suspicions of nefarious conduct on the part of government agencies. I reject the reputational damage argument advanced by my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace. That is why I interrupted and pointed out that you cannot say that allegations of torture have been answered when the judge delivers a judgment and says, “Well, I find against you but I can’t tell you why”. I cannot imagine what that does to clear the air.
What will the Government do in the pleadings? What will they say their case is? How do they propose to alter the disclosure rules to hold back documents which they are duty bound to disclose? How can the claimant’s lawyers begin to assess risk in order to consider proposals for settlement that may be advanced by the Government, or to make proposals themselves when that lawyer does not know whether or what secret material is before the judge? When the Government’s lawyers go behind the claimant’s back into the judge’s chambers, they are seeking judgment in their favour on their untested allegations against the claimant. What is more, by this means they can keep secret any embarrassments or nefarious conduct of their own. How does the claimant’s lawyer, in practice, advise his client to settle the case? You put settlements out when you adopt a procedure such as that suggested in Part 2 of this Bill. What then should be done?
The experience of the Diplock courts in Northern Ireland provides an acceptable answer. It became impossible, your Lordships will recall, to hold normal jury trials in terrorist cases in that jurisdiction due to intimidation and prejudice arising out of sectarian divisions in the Province. In Diplock trials, the judge sat alone and in criminal cases became the judge of fact as well as of law. He decided what had happened. Accordingly, a separate judge, a disclosure judge, heard applications, for example for the exclusion of inadmissible evidence and applications for public interest immunity. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Kerr, then Lord Chief Justice, in the case of McKeown in the Northern Irish Court of Appeal in 2004 described this different model of procedure in the Diplock system. He said:
“The system of non jury trial, involving as it does the judge as the tribunal of fact as well as the arbiter on legal issues, clearly calls for a different model than that which is suitable for trial by judge and jury … Since it is a non-jury trial, it would be plainly unsuitable for the judge who must decide on the accused’s guilt to see material that might be adverse to him. A ‘disclosure judge’ had to be assigned to examine the subject of the material that should be made available to the defence. The level of intervention by the disclosure judge depended on the nature of the issues that arose on the trial”.
So there, in Northern Ireland, we have experience of where, in criminal matters, the judge was the judge of fact and a separate judge dealt with disclosure and with the sensitive matters of public interest immunity. In my view, it is directly analogous and I shall be putting down amendments to the effect that applications to withhold sensitive material should be made to a designated judge, a disclosure judge, who will be quite separate from the trial judge. The disclosure judge would first of all carry out a public interest immunity exercise so as to identify what material, if any, would assist the claimant’s case or damage the Government’s case. In my view it is an utterly unsatisfactory feature of this Bill that the Secretary of State only has to “consider” whether he should make a PII application before launching into a CMP application. We shall endeavour to ensure that there shall be no CMP application unless it is preceded by a PII hearing. It should be for the court to consider whether the Government’s concerns could be met by the public interest immunity application without recourse to this very much more serious dent in principle of CMP procedures.
The disclosure judge carrying out a public interest immunity application would look at the sensitive material and hear submissions from both sides, including any special advocate appointed for the claimant. He might even, in proscribed circumstances and subject to safeguards, give permission to the special advocate to speak to the claimant. In his ruling on disclosure, the disclosure judge would exclude irrelevant and inadmissible evidence, such as hearsay, opinion and intercept. He could determine what should be disclosed and the form in which the disclosed evidence should be received in open trial before the trial judge who is to decide the facts of the case. He could use redacted documents or precautions to preserve the anonymity of the sources and secret techniques of the security services, and the other precautions that are currently available in PII cases. The point is that the claimant or another interested party, and the public, can be reassured that in the generality of cases, the trial judge—the judge of fact; the judge who produces the final judgment—has not seen anything more in secret from the Government than the claimant has seen and has not been prejudiced thereby. I stress “the public” because public confidence in justice and fairness underpins the whole justice system.
What would happen if the Government were unwilling to disclose secret material that the disclosure judge on a public interest immunity application ordered should be disclosed? In a criminal case at present, the prosecution ordered to disclose something may refuse to do so and may drop the case. In civil cases, as the Government complain, they may decide to settle the case and pay damages to the claimant without admission of liability. It is only in this situation, where the Government still seek to rely on secret material after the public interest immunity application has been heard and the PII possibilities have been explored, that CMP procedures would have any part to play. I concede that in rare and extreme instances, where the interests of justice are overwhelming, the disclosure judge should have the power to convey to the trial judge some fact or circumstance relevant to his determination of the case heard that could not be disclosed to the claimant. Although it is contrary to the principle for which I argue, I can conceive that, sparingly used, such a power would be a safeguard—a safety valve—that should satisfy the Government’s concerns. I bear in mind that matters that the Government wish to conceal might not necessarily be in their interests and might reveal facts that would assist the claimant, even though he does not know about them. I also bear in mind the safeguards in Clause 7(3), to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, has spoken.
Your Lordships will be pleased to hear that I do not have time to comment on the Norwich Pharmacal issues, which will be developed by my noble friend Lord Lester. I agree with him and the Joint Committee on Human Rights that it is essential that the jurisdiction of the court should not be ousted in these cases, and that any ministerial certificate should be reviewable—not simply on procedural grounds but on the balance of the public interest.
My Lords, for the benefit of the whole House, and before the noble Lord, Lord Butler, contributes to the debate, noble Lords might find it helpful if I remind them of what the Companion says about speeches in debates where there are no formal time limits. It states that,
“members opening or winding up, from either side, are expected to keep within 20 minutes. Other speakers are expected to keep within 15 minutes. These are only guidelines and, on occasion, a speech of outstanding importance, or a ministerial speech winding up an exceptionally long debate, may exceed these limits”.
My Lords, I shall do my best to comply with the noble Baroness’s exhortation.
The Bill before the House is important, although its purposes are limited. It is also urgent because the Intelligence and Security Committee—I have the honour to be one of its members from your Lordships’ House—has seen direct evidence that uncertainty over the matters covered in Part 2 of the Bill is already affecting co-operation with our intelligence allies on matters of national security. I do not want to exaggerate the effect of that but the House should be aware that our proceedings are being watched with more than usual attention by our allies, particularly our United States allies.
The Bill has been the subject of consultation through a government Green Paper, and that consultation has been valuable. It has not only enabled the provisions of the Bill to be widely understood but caused the Government to modify their original proposals in significant ways. As previous speakers have explained, the Bill essentially has two purposes. One is to modernise parliamentary oversight of the United Kingdom intelligence community. The other is to address the problem which has arisen in relation to the disclosure of intelligence in certain civil proceedings. As one of the two Members of your Lordships’ House in the Intelligence and Security Committee, which otherwise consists of members of another place, it may appear a little self-centred if I deal first with the Bill’s provisions relating to the committee. However, in doing so, I follow the order of the provisions in the Bill.
Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, I can claim a certain parental interest in the Intelligence and Security Committee, because as Cabinet Secretary and a counting officer for the secret vote, I was involved in the discussions inside government which led to the establishment of the committee through the Intelligence Services Act 1994.
In the early 1990s, when the main British intelligence agencies—the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ—had been publicly avowed, it was recognised that Parliament should have more oversight of the services than the very limited and secret supervision of the agencies which the Public Accounts Committee had previously had. There was a good deal of nervousness within the Government, and particularly within the agencies, about giving parliamentarians access to their work. This was not because the agencies were defensive or embarrassed about their activities. On the contrary, they felt that the scrupulousness with which they carried out their duties could stand up to scrutiny perfectly well. Their anxieties understandably related to the necessary secrecy of their work and about the admission to their secret world of parliamentarians who necessarily conducted their lives in public. So the method of appointment and the range of activities of the committee were very tightly controlled in the 1994 Act. The committee, though comprising Members of Parliament, was appointed by the Prime Minister. The range of supervision of the committee omitted intelligence operations and was confined to expenditure, policy, and administration; and it was restricted to the three agencies rather than to the intelligence community as a whole.
It is greatly to the credit of successive committees and their chairmen, many of whom are Members of your Lordships' House, that the fears of the intelligence agencies have proved unfounded. The members of the committee, admitted within the ring of secrecy, have recognised and observed the obligations of discretion which that access has required. Over the years the intelligence community has developed confidence in the committee as independent friends, sometimes critical but invariably trustworthy and conscious of the importance of the agencies' work.
Consequently, the work of the committee has progressed beyond the confines of the original legislation. It continues to scrutinise expenditure, administration and policy, but it has been useful to the Government as well as to Parliament that it should sometimes look retrospectively at operations, especially when those operations are controversial or there are lessons to be learnt from them. It is sensible that the opportunity should be taken through this Bill to bring the legislation in line with how the committee now operates in practice. However, the tight restrictions on the way the committee was established have one major disadvantage. The fact that the committee is appointed by the Prime Minister and reports to the Prime Minister can, and does, suggest that the committee is the creature of the Prime Minister and the Government. This has on occasion reduced the confidence of the public and Parliament in the committee's independence.
Some restrictions on the committee continue to be necessary. It is right that the committee should be able to report unrestrictedly to the Prime Minister, but the coverage of its published reports needs to be restricted so that secrets are not disclosed. The record of the committee in the 18 years of its existence demonstrates that it can be freed of some of the shackles originally imposed upon it.
It is now time for the committee to come of age and for legislation to catch up with the extensions of coverage and freedom of action which have, in practice, been extended to the committee as confidence in it has grown. In consequence, the committee will become more useful to Parliament and the public as its independence is more manifestly demonstrated.
I turn now to the more controversial provisions of the Bill, which have been the subject of earlier speeches: those relating to closed procedures. It is important to emphasise—it has been clear from the speeches that this is well recognised—that the provisions in the Bill relate only to civil proceedings. In criminal cases, it has always been the case that when material is so sensitive that it cannot be disclosed to the defendant and yet the prosecution cannot proceed without it, the case cannot proceed. Defendants cannot be convicted in criminal cases on the basis of material of which they cannot be made aware and do not have the opportunity to contest. Criminal cases are brought only by the Crown. The Crown is the prosecutor and members of the public are the defendants. The difference in civil cases is that the Crown may be the defendant. The new development in this area is that the events following 9/11 and detention in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere have given rise to a spate of civil cases against our Government and others. In the case of our own Government, some of those cases can be defended only by the deployment of intelligence belonging either to our country or to other countries. In the case of action against other Governments, application can be made under a procedure known as the Norwich Pharmacal procedure for disclosure of information held by our Government even though there may be no suggestion that our Government were involved in any wrongdoing.
In such cases, there are only three possible courses. One is the disclosure of the intelligence. The second is conceding the action because material necessary to defend it cannot be used. The third is to institute a procedure such as the closed hearings provided for in the Bill. The seriousness of disclosing intelligence, particularly but not only intelligence supplied by allies, cannot be stressed too strongly. The potential breach of the principle that intelligence provided by allied countries must be restricted to our Government and used only for the purposes for which it was given—a principle known as the control principle—would have very serious consequences. It has already had serious consequences in the one case in which it has occurred.
The second alternative of having to assert public interest immunity and perhaps to concede the action because it cannot be effectively defended means, in my submission, that justice cannot be done. The Government may have to concede large sums in settlement in cases in which the use of intelligence might have enabled the Government to defend themselves and, as has been recognised, that has already happened in some cases. I submit that taxpayers are also entitled to justice.
The third alternative is a closed procedure in which special advocates are given access to the information on behalf of their clients and that is proposed in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, in his extremely well informed speech, proposed an alternative procedure which may well be worthy of consideration. However, I think we are all agreed that some way must be found of enabling justice to be done, while information essential to national security is protected. We all agree on the importance of protecting such information.
These closed procedures are an exception to the principle that all relevant information should be freely available to all parties in litigation. It should be clearly limited to cases where it is absolutely necessary. It is therefore welcome that the Government have already reduced the scope of their original proposals from sensitive material to material prejudicial to national security. It is also welcome that the judge should be given the final decision on the application of such procedures.
But I have no doubt that, for example, intelligence provided by foreign partners who do not consent to its disclosure, must be protected. If a judge ruled that its disclosure was essential to the resolution of a case, the Government would have to withdraw their defence. But that is better than the Government having to withdraw their defence in all such cases.
No one pretends that closed proceedings are ideal, but they seem to me to be the least worst option in these cases. It may be that we can make improvements in the special advocate procedure along the lines, for example, of the recommendations in the excellent report of your Lordships’ Constitution Committee or those of other countries which, in similar circumstances, have introduced closed proceedings legislation. But a procedure on these lines is preferable to the public interest immunity procedure in the United States where Binyam Mohamed was unable to bring any action at all because the Government asserted state secrets privilege.
There are aspects of the Bill with which the Intelligence and Security Committee is not yet fully satisfied and which will need clarification and perhaps amendment as the Bill proceeds. But I think that I speak on behalf of my colleagues on the committee when I say that we welcome the general thrust of the Bill and agree with the importance and urgency that the Government attach to it.
My Lords, it is with pleasure that I follow the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell—with whom I have the honour to serve on the Intelligence and Security Committee—not least because, after his comprehensive speech, I can keep my own comments relatively brief. I will try not to cover the same ground as he has, although that may not be possible in all instances.
I was first appointed to the ISC when I was a Member of the other place in January 2006. I am therefore reasonably well aware of the current weaknesses of the committee as well as its undoubted strengths—many of which, by the nature of the committee, by necessity go unsung.
The committee has long been criticised for lacking independence, mainly because it is appointed by and reports primarily to the Prime Minister. In fact, all my colleagues on the committee take our independence very seriously. Looking round the House I see others who have served on the committee. I am sure that they, too, would emphasise that they saw their independence as an important part of their function. However, that is not the public perception—and as they used to say to me in Northern Ireland, “It’s the perception that matters”. This Bill therefore provides that the committee will in future be appointed by Parliament on the nomination of the Prime Minister, after due consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, and will in future publish its main reports direct to Parliament.
Whereas in the past the committee could only request information from the intelligence agencies, in future it will be able to require it and will have enhanced resources with which to obtain it. The committee will also be able to exercise retrospective oversight of the operational activities of the agencies on matters of significant national interest. It has in practice done so for many years past but will now do so on a much wider scale, more regularly and within a legislative framework.
At a time when oversight of the agencies becomes increasingly important, this Bill will enable the ISC to perform its task more effectively on Parliament’s and the public's behalf. From being a committee of parliamentarians appointed by the Prime Minister, it will now become effectively—in practice if not in name—a committee of Parliament. There are some details to which I will return at later stages of the legislative process, but by and large the first part of the Bill is a substantial move in the right direction.
The second part of the Bill, on closed material procedures in civil actions, is indeed more contentious. Anything that seeks on the face of it—and once again, perceptions matter—to offend against the principles of open justice is bound to give rise to concern, not least in the media. However, I believe that the Bill, if it is studied carefully, meets nearly all those concerns. The Minister dealt with much of this, and indeed my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern—at whose feet I sat many years ago as a very junior member of the Scottish Bar—gave us a full explanation and justification of the procedure and the ways in which it will be used.
I therefore just want to make a number of general points. My first is that the use of the procedure refers only to where disclosure of the material in question would be damaging to national security—and I emphasise the words “national security”. Those two words are vital because they are rightly far more restrictive than the original proposal in the Green Paper of damage to the “public interest”. The test of the level of sensitivity that could damage national security must be a narrow one. I too have some doubts as to whether the Bill has created a sufficiently narrow definition. We cannot have a situation where intelligence information is excluded because it was marked “secret” and could embarrass the Government or the intelligence agencies. It has to be shown that it risks the security of this country and its citizens. Secondly, it is important in this respect that it is a judge and not a Minister who will ultimately determine whether the procedure should be used.
There are two such categories of intelligence information which it covers. First, there is the United Kingdom intelligence material, disclosure of which could endanger and undermine our intelligence officers and the vital work that they carry out on our behalf. I hope that we would all agree that that particular definition meets the test of sensitivity. Secondly, there is foreign intelligence material shared with us on the strict understanding of confidentiality—the so-called control principle to which the noble Lord, Lord Butler, referred. Such intelligence, which is essential to us in meeting the threat of international terrorism, does not belong to us; it belongs to those who share it with us. We have no right to disclose it without their consent. This principle is sacrosanct, and it works both ways.
There are those who still question whether breach of the principle would really have serious repercussions in terms of intelligence sharing in the future. I say as categorically as I can that I am in no doubt of this. The noble Lord, Lord Butler, and I have talked to people in the intelligence agencies in the United States and elsewhere and what they have said to me leaves me in no doubt that that would be the case. The truth is that we need their intelligence, and anything that puts that at risk puts at risk our national security and that of our citizens too. Therefore I welcome the changes to the Norwich Pharmacal principle envisaged in the Bill.
My other point is that the CMP is the procedure most likely in the circumstances to achieve justice while protecting—necessarily protecting—the information in question. At present, where such genuinely sensitive material is at issue, there are effectively two options for protecting it. The first is to withdraw the defence, however sound that defence may be, and face massive compensation claims—which, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, made clear, are met in the end by the taxpayer. The second is to apply for public interest immunity certificates which prevent, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, said, the material being seen or heard at all in that it will be totally excluded from the legal proceedings. In my view—as someone, I have to say, who has not practised the law for a very long time—neither of those options is conducive to justice. At least the closed material procedure means that the judge and the special advocates can see and question the material, and in the judge’s mind it can then form part of his or her judgment.
I want to make one other point. National security is not just about the general safety of our nation—which of course is paramount—it is also about protecting the lives of innocent citizens threatened by terrorism. Frequently that protection is achieved through secret intelligence from both home and abroad, intelligence which must be protected; and therefore sometimes the price of that protection is a curtailment of long-standing rights. I have long believed that the freedom of the individual, enshrined within these rights, is paramount. However, the greatest of these rights is the right to life itself. Protecting life from existential threat must be the priority, even at the cost of some restriction on other rights. I have seen for myself the carnage of terrorist outrages. No rights can take precedence over the means that can prevent them. In the end it is a question of a delicate balance, and in my view, this Bill gets it just about right.
My Lords, it is a particular pleasure to follow such distinguished members of the current ISC as the two noble Lords who have spoken before me in this debate. The ISC is a committee on which I have twice had the pleasure of serving in the past. I welcome the Bill which, although not long, deals with rather a large number of important issues that have been in need of being addressed for some time. At later stages I will consider whether amendments might be desirable, but at this Second Reading, I would just like to seek assurances from the Government on some points.
Part 1 of the Bill, on the oversight of intelligence and security activities, deals almost wholly with the Intelligence and Security Committee. The ISC came into being through the Intelligence Services Act 1994 for which the then Prime Minister, John Major, deserves considerable credit. Although the intelligence community had long desired such a development—especially the SIS, which until then was not officially avowed—previous Governments had been reluctant to go down that route. The excellent work of the ISC since its inception has demonstrated the correctness of Prime Minister Major’s decision at the time.
Nearly all the proposals, as far as I can see, regularise what in fact has come to be the practice of the ISC, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, indicated. For example, it looks at intelligence activities outwith the three main agencies and examines in retrospect operations of particularly significant national interest. I would just comment here that there has been a feeling for some time that, as a Joint Committee, consideration should be given to increasing the number of members from your Lordships’ House on the ISC. It should be acknowledged here that the present Government have increased that representation from one to two members, but I think a further increase should be considered.
However, there is one point in the Bill on which I would urge caution and seek reassurance; that is, that the ISC should have powers to require information from the agencies subject to a veto from the Secretary of State rather than, as now, the head of an agency. As a general comment, I would advise the Government to be careful of eroding the authority of the heads of the agencies. I was concerned to discover that there had been changes in recent years in the writing of annual confidential reports on the three agency heads, so that where the Secretary of State had featured in the past, the first National Security Adviser was considered to be the “line manager” of the three agency heads. I understand that there has been a change with the change of National Security Adviser. I must make clear here that I have absolutely no idea what the three agency heads felt or feel about this, but that is not the point. This has nothing to do with personalities or personal feelings; to my mind, it is a matter of constitutional propriety.
I do not consider it appropriate that the three heads of agencies should be simply slotted into senior Civil Service rankings. In a democracy, it is essential that the security and intelligence services should be independent, answering to a Secretary of State and directly to the Prime Minister. Of course, in practice it will probably make little difference to refer to a Secretary of State for release of refused information, because it would be a very brave—in the Sir Humphrey usage of that word—Secretary of State who would overrule a director-general of the Security Service, a chief of SIS or a director of GCHQ on the wisdom of releasing sensitive material, and of course much fuller detailed reasoning can be given to Secretaries of State about the sensitivity of sources than can be revealed to the ISC.
However, I urge the Government to proceed with great caution here. Of course the agencies have to be accountable but their independence is crucial. That independence has to be from political or—dare I say it?—Civil Service operational interference. I would appreciate hearing the Minister’s comments on this point and would like to be reassured that there is no slippage about safeguarding the operational independence of the agencies.
Part 2 of the Bill, which deals with the disclosure of sensitive material in courts, is of course long overdue but the delay has been caused by having to wrestle with some hugely difficult problems of how to use sensitive intelligence material in our legal system without taking unacceptable risks of damaging sources, both human and technical. This set of proposals seems to tackle these problems rather well. I would just like to make two comments from my own past professional experience—one of revealing information from a liaison service and the other on the use of intercept material as evidence. Both these issues are much more complex, sensitive and difficult than they appear at first glance or to the uninitiated. I have spoken before in this House at some length on both of them, and today at Second Reading I will be very brief.
On the first point, it is a rule—in my day it was called the “third party rule”—engraved on the heart of every intelligence officer, however junior or senior, that material from any liaison service cannot and must not ever be passed on or revealed to a third party without the express permission of the originator. If that rule is violated, the intelligence flow is endangered. We, the British, would enforce this rule absolutely on our own material, so it is to be expected that liaison services would do the same to us, which in some cases would result in very serious adverse consequences and loss of intelligence, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, have made very clear in their speeches today.
Secondly, the question of using intercept as evidence has occupied this House at great length on many occasions over the years, as well as the whole of Whitehall, and I will not rehearse the detailed arguments again here. In spite of the ardent desire of successive Secretaries of State and law officers to achieve this, and the best legal brains in Whitehall wrestling with it, no solution has been found—perhaps until now. It has never been a question of principle but rather one of sheer practicality. A team of distinguished privy counsellors produced a report after lengthy consideration of all the evidence, and an implementation unit was set up in the Home Office to test various possible solutions in conjunction with the privy counsellors, one of whom was my much admired and now sadly missed noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell. How does all this relate to Clause 6(3)(b) of the Bill, which states that the court must ignore Section 17(1) of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which deals with the exclusion of intercept material?
I would be grateful if the Minister could elucidate and explain how the Bill’s provisions satisfy the requirements of the report of the privy counsellors. I hope that I can be reassured on this and the other points I have raised. On receiving such assurances, I would very happily support this Bill.
My Lords, the Joint Committee on Human Rights is obtaining evidence about this Bill. We intend to report to Parliament before Report stage and to table amendments in the mean time. It is a highly controversial Bill and we welcome the Minister’s assurance that there will be sufficient time to scrutinise and improve it during its passage in this House. Like the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, whose speech I found particularly impressive, I think we should strive across the House to achieve consensus where we can.
There are welcome ways, identified by the Minister and others, in which the Bill improves on the overly-broad proposals in the Green Paper, in accordance with the recommendations of the JCHR and others. However, the Government have not accepted our criticisms or recommendations, or those of the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, the special advocates and civil society, about the lack of sufficient judicial control of the closed material procedure, the judicial balancing role of public interest immunity, as described by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and the use of the Norwich Pharmacal disclosure jurisdiction post the Binyam Mohamed decision of the Court of Appeal. I regret to say that the Bill betrays an unjustified lack of confidence in our fine system of civil justice and the capacity of our courts to protect state secrets.
The Select Committee on the Constitution has published its very significant report on the Bill, rightly noting that exceptions to the constitutional principles of open justice and natural justice should be accepted only where demonstrated on the basis of clear evidence to be necessary. The JCHR considers that the Government have not demonstrated by reference to evidence that the fairness concern on which they rely is in fact a real and practical problem.
That said, I must now plead guilty. It is to some extent because of my role at the Bar that the closed material procedure was first introduced. It happened as a result of litigation in both European courts. In the first example, Marguerite Johnston v Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, a Minister had certified that national security prevented part-time reservists in the RUC having the merits of their sex discrimination cases heard at all in Northern Ireland. I had to go through Luxembourg for them to get that conclusive ministerial certificate set aside so that we were able to hold a merits hearing before a tribunal in Northern Ireland, partly in camera, and I am glad to say that the women won.
The second example is the Tinnelly and McElduff cases, where Northern Irish complainants said they had been black-balled from getting government contracts because of their religion, and the Government said otherwise. Again, the puzzle was how to do justice to them when the Government said there were national security considerations affecting their cases. I plead guilty to having suggested, as had many NGOs, that the answer was a closed material procedure. That is what was developed in SIAC. I do not, therefore, start off with a root-and-branch opposition to the closed material procedure. Where properly controlled, it is in my view a proper compromise.
The Constitution Committee rightly decided that the scheme contains three basic flaws. I agree with that but I am not going to talk about it, because the committee did not look at Norwich Pharmacal. I am simply going to concentrate the remainder of my remarks on the ouster in Clause 13. This refers to the court’s ability to order the disclosure of any information held by or originating from the intelligence services in civil proceedings where the claimant alleges that wrongdoing by someone else has, or may have, occurred; that our intelligence services were involved in the carrying out of wrongdoing, innocently or not; and that the disclosure is reasonably necessary to enable redress to be obtained or a defence to be relied on in connection with the wrongdoing.
As it stands, Clause 13 would deprive the courts of the ability to make such an order in any circumstance. It is a complete and absolute ouster clause. What would this mean in practice? I will illustrate this in the real world. Shaker Aamer is a Saudi Arabian citizen and the last remaining former British resident detained in Guantanamo. Following his capture in Afghanistan in December 2001, he was detained by US military authorities in Afghanistan, and since February 2002, in Guantanamo. Despite repeated requests by the United Kingdom Government, he has still not been released from Guantanamo.
Shaker Aamer maintains that, during his detention by the US military authorities, he has been subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. In English proceedings, he sought disclosure of material alleged to be in the Foreign Secretary’s possession supporting his case before the Guantanamo review task force that any confessions that he may have made during his detention were induced by torture or ill-treatment. The basis of his application is the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction, as developed in the Binyam Mohamed case.
The Divisional Court gave judgment on 15 December 2009 granting his application subject to hearing further argument on statutory prohibitions and public interest immunity. The judgment records his allegations of ill-treatment during his detention at Bagram air force base, where his interrogators included a member of the UK Security Service, and his interrogation at Kandahar air force base by two members of the UK Security Service. The Divisional Court held that, to the extent that the information held by the Secretary of State supported that claim, it was essential to the presentation of the claimant’s case before the task force. Without the information sought, and without the ability to make submissions on the basis of that information, the claimant’s case could not be fairly considered by the task force of the review panel.
The current Norwich Pharmacal cases are also those of Omar and Njoroge, both of which are death-penalty cases pending in Uganda. Their substantive claims have been heard in the Divisional Court and judgment is still awaited. Both men claim that the Foreign Secretary holds information, in the possession of the intelligence service, that will prove that they were rendered and tortured and that this was part of a plan. I shall not say any more about those cases because they are pending, but those men are on trial for their lives in Uganda.
If the powers of our courts to order disclosure in those cases in the interests of justice are abrogated by Clause 13, these men and other alleged victims of torture and serious ill-treatment who are on trial for their lives, and their security-cleared lawyers if they have them, will be denied access to crucial information. It is not appropriate to describe cases of this kind as “legal tourism”. They have real and close connections with this country and British intelligence actions here and overseas, and they are properly brought in British courts, just as they could be in other common law countries, including the United States, and civil law countries. Given that it has been suggested that this is some novel English jurisdiction, I have summarised the comparative position on a website, www.odysseus trust.org, where one can find the comparative position across the common law world, the civil law world and the United States.
The motivation driving the Bill is the political need to reassure the United States Government and the CIA, and our own intelligence services, that sensitive information imparted in confidence will remain secret. The working relationships between the intelligence services of the UK and the US are subject to an understanding of confidentiality described as the control principle, which is very important.
In the landmark judgment in Binyam Mohamed, the Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, referred to,
“the painstaking care with which the Divisional Court addressed the public interest arguments advanced by the Foreign Secretary. The approach of the Divisional Court ... represented an exemplary model of judicial patience … If for any reason the court is required to address the question whether the control principle, as understood by the intelligence services, should be disapplied, the decision depends on well understood PII principles. As the executive, not the judiciary, is responsible for national security and public protection and safety from terrorist activity, the judiciary defers to it on these issues, unless it is acting unlawfully, or in the context of litigation the court concludes that the claim by the executive for public interest immunity is not justified. Self evidently that is not a decision to be taken lightly”.
I know of no case in which a British court has failed to respect the intelligence relationship between the UK and United States or the need to protect state secrets and national security, including the case of Binyam Mohamed, where the only information ever revealed by a court was information revealed by Judge Kessler in the district court for the District of Columbia in a federal habeas corpus case. When my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, refers to the damage done by that case, he may not appreciate that the only information ever revealed was public and had been revealed in the United States by the federal district court. That, in truncated form, was all that was ever revealed.
My Lords, I am well aware of that, but the fact is that that was a breach of the control principle. I assure the noble Lord that the United States authorities regarded that as a breach of a sacrosanct understanding between them and the United Kingdom.
Yes, surely, just as the previous Government thought that even though in Spycatcher, information had been available throughout the United States, it should be stopped in this country. I do not question the sincerity of the belief, simply its rationality.
I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm in winding up this debate that he agrees with the assessment that the British courts have invariably protected state secrets from harmful public disclosure. It is important that that be on public record for the benefit of our American cousins. The Lord Chief Justice also noted in Binyam Mohamed that it had been accepted by and on behalf of the Foreign Secretary, the right honourable David Miliband, in the litigation that,
“in our country, which is governed by the rule of law, upheld by an independent judiciary, the confidentiality principle is indeed subject to the clear limitation that the Government and the intelligence services can never provide the country which provides intelligence with an unconditional guarantee that the confidentiality principle will never be set aside if the courts conclude that the interests of justice make it necessary and appropriate to do so. The acknowledgement”—
that is, by the right honourable David Miliband—
“that the control principle is qualified in this way is plainly correct, and it appears to be accepted that the same limitation on the control principle would apply in the USA. Presumably therefore our intelligence services accept that although the control principle applies to any information which they disclose to their colleagues in the USA, the ultimate decision on disclosure would depend on the courts in the USA, and not the intelligence services, or for that matter the executive”.
Indeed, in his first PII certificate, the right honourable David Miliband MP fairly recognised that he,
“may well have been inclined to reach a different conclusion on the balance of the public interest were the US authorities not to have made the commitments to make the documents available”
to Mr Mohamed’s US counsel. In other words, the previous Government rightly recognised that the control principle was not absolute. Clause 13 would reverse that.
The Government’s briefing describes the Binyam Mohamed case as controversial. It certainly is, and that remains the view of our ally. Even though the previous British Government sought to provide information about his torture and ill-treatment to security-cleared lawyers so that he could have a fair trial for offences carrying the death penalty, the US Government refused to do so. Even after the federal court had published the information in detail, the British Government persisted in seeking to persuade the English Court of Appeal not to publish for fear of offending our American allies who, according to the Government, have lost confidence in our ability to protect their intelligence, and as a result have put measures in place to regulate or restrict our intelligence exchanges. President Obama deserves better informed advice about our courts. The American Supreme Court has itself said:
“Judicial control over the evidence in a case cannot be abdicated to the caprice of executive officers”.
Finally, in his evidence in the Binyam Mohamed case, Morton Halperin, a senior expert on security issues, gave extensive evidence explaining how both Governments understand that in both countries the right to order the disclosure of information has to be in accordance with law and subject to the judiciary. Surely the US Government understand our parliamentary system of government under the rule of law by the independent judiciary and would accept a decision by our Parliament that the absolute ouster of the courts’ jurisdiction in Clause 13 is disproportionate and unfair. My noble and learned friend the Minister said that Clause 13 will not affect convention rights, but the Government’s handout on the human rights memorandum says that there are no convention rights that would obtain so that is not an appropriate safeguard. I very much hope that limitations can be written in to ensure that Clause 13 will no longer continue as an absolute ouster clause.
My Lords, your Lordships’ Constitution Committee, of which I am a member, has published a report which emphasises the constitutional significance of Part 2 of the Bill. The closed material procedure would create broad exceptions to two vital principles of our law: the principle of open justice, that evidence must be given in public; and the principle of natural justice, that each of the disputing parties must have the opportunity to respond to the evidence on which the other relies.
These departures from fundamental constitutional principles arise in the context of the point made in the Supreme Court last year by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kerr of Tonaghmore, which the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has already quoted:
“Evidence which has been insulated from challenge may positively mislead”.
These constitutional principles are not sacrosanct—I entirely accept the point made by the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian—but there are two central questions which the House will wish to consider in Committee and on Report. The first is whether the Government can show that the CMP provisions are truly necessary, so as to justify the breach of fundamental principles. The second question is whether the detailed provisions in the Bill allow for a fair balance between competing interests. I was very pleased that, in opening this debate, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate said that he recognised that the Government were aiming for a fair balance between competing interests: security on the one hand and liberty on the other.
As your Lordships have already heard this afternoon, the courts have very long experience in seeking to ensure the confidentiality of information the publication of which would damage the public interest, whether it is national security or any other interest. The law on public interest immunity—PII—has been developed for that purpose. I declare an interest as a practising barrister who has appeared in cases concerned with PII. As the report of your Lordships’ Constitution Committee explains, the Minister produces a certificate and explains that items of relevant evidence cannot be disclosed to the other parties because of national security or some other public interest consideration. The judge then makes an assessment of whether disclosure would harm the public interest and, if so, the judge weighs such harm against the interests of administration of justice and the need to disclose the documents. Because the task of the judge is to balance competing interests, the judge vitally considers whether there are means of preserving confidentiality other than excluding the material from disclosure and other than saying that the evidence cannot be adduced at trial. For example, the court may sit in private. The court may say that there is to be no publication of the names of witnesses such as serving security agents. Disclosure may be restricted to named legal representatives. Most important of all, the judge may decide that the material can be disclosed but only in a redacted form, and that the court will have regard to the redacted form of the material which is seen by all the parties in the case.
The courts have been applying these principles and developing them in PII cases since the decision of the Appellate Committee in Conway v Rimmer in 1968, and indeed before then in Scotland, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate mentioned—or perhaps it was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, although both of them have knowledge. I accept, of course, that in some respects the law in Scotland leads the law in England, and this is one of them.
The point is this, and I say it with genuine respect for the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate. He wrongly presents PII as a mechanism which, when it applies, necessarily means that the material is excluded from the trial. It is on that premise—a wrong premise, with respect—that he suggests that a CMP is preferable because it will not reduce the amount of information which the other party will receive and it enables the judge to have more information available. The reality, as I have sought to indicate, is that the court has an ability applying PII to devise means by which security and fairness can be reconciled by the use of the mechanisms that I have mentioned. The provisions of this Bill are a long, long way from striking a fair balance between security and liberty or between security and the fair administration of justice, which is the goal stated by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate.
Clause 6(2) obliges the judge to order closed proceedings in relation to material if the judge is persuaded that disclosure of that material would be damaging to the interests of national security. The judge is obliged to order a closed material procedure even if the judge thinks that the case could and should be fairly tried under PII rules and so there is no need for a closed material procedure. The judge may come to that view, if he were allowed to do so, because there are other means of protecting the confidentiality of the material, such as redacting the truly confidential part of it; or perhaps because the material that we are concerned about is of very limited significance in the proceedings, as the judge can see; or because the damage to the public interest by the disclosure of this material might be found by the judge to be absolutely minimal and the damage to the fairness of the proceedings by denying the other party access to it might be substantial.
I suggest that it is quite extraordinary that none of this fair balance is included and that Clause 6(3) requires the judge, when deciding whether to order a closed material procedure, to ignore the possibility of resolving the issues through a public interest immunity certificate. How can that be said to be sensible and proportionate—again, the criteria stated by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate in opening the debate today? If, as I doubt, CMPs are required at all, given the availability of a flexible public interest immunity procedure, the judge surely must have a discretion over whether to impose a CMP, which discretion the judge should exercise only if that is the best available means of securing fairness in the light of confidentiality concerns and having regard to the availability of public interest immunity.
I am also concerned about Clauses 13 and 14—that is, the Norwich Pharmacal provisions. I agree with everything that has been said on that subject by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. Let us be clear what this involves: those clauses would remove the jurisdiction of our courts to order the disclosure of information to an individual who has a properly arguable case that the representatives of this country are involved in wrongdoing. As pointed out in the powerful memorandum from 50 of the special advocates, these cases may involve the gravest of allegations of wrongdoing —allegations of torture or death abroad in which the authorities in this country are said to be implicated. Surely, in such a context, the House will want to be very careful indeed to ensure that any restrictions on the disclosure of information are strictly necessary.
The Bill would prevent the disclosure of any “sensitive information”—an unjustifiably broad concept, as pointed out today by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. Disclosure of most of the specified categories of sensitive information under the Bill would be prevented, whether or not it would harm the public interest. The judge makes no such assessment, nor an assessment of whether there is a balance between any harm to the public interest and the detriment to the individual, or indeed the detriment to the public interest by the concealment of this information. Again, I ask the Minister how that can satisfy the attractive criterion that he stated when he opened this debate:
“protecting the public should not come at the expense of our freedoms”.
Why are these provisions being brought forward? It is primarily because of the experience in the Binyam Mohamed case in 2010. The Government’s concern, which I understand, is that the courts should not require the disclosure of information supplied in confidence to the security services of this country by the security services of our allies. There are two points here. The first is that the provisions that we will be debating in Committee, Clauses 13 and 14, are not confined to information supplied in confidence by a foreign intelligence service when disclosure would damage our relations with that service. The second and perhaps more fundamental point is that there is absolutely no material—the noble Lord, Lord Lester, made this point—to suggest that courts allow or order the disclosure of confidential information that has been supplied to the security services of this country by our allies. The courts have a record of recognising, rightly, the vital importance of protecting national security and the sources of information that go towards it.
It is vital to recollect that in the Binyam Mohamed case the Court of Appeal, the final court that heard the matter, made it clear that the only reason why it was ordering publication of the relevant information was that that very information had already been publicly disclosed by reason of an order made by a court in the United States. The three judges in the Court of Appeal—Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice; Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls; and Sir Anthony May, the president of the Queen’s Bench Division—stated expressly that they would not have ordered publication in defiance of the statement made by the United States authorities that disclosure of the information would damage national security there and a statement by Ministers here that disclosure would damage our national security because of the need to maintain a relationship of trust with the United States, even though the court was highly sceptical of those claims, but for the fact that that very material had been published by reason of a court order in the United States. If this is the basis of the concern of the security services, which presumably are responsible for asking the Government to bring forward these measures, they simply have not learnt the basic lessons from the Spycatcher case.
The Minister sought to assure and reassure the House that Clauses 13 and 14 would not prevent claims by litigants who allege that they have been the victims of serious wrongdoing. What he ignores for that purpose, though, is that without the disclosure of the information such claims cannot in practice be pursued. That is precisely why in 1973 the Appellate Committee created the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction that is the subject of Clauses 13 and 14.
On the case made so far by the Government, the provisions of Part 2 of the Bill regarding both CMPs and Norwich Pharmacal orders are, I suggest, unnecessary and unfair, and will undoubtedly damage the ability of the courts to give judgments that are fair and are seen to be fair.
Before the noble Lord sits down, he has referred several times to my noble and learned friend as the Lord Advocate. The Lord Advocate is now an officer in Scotland; my noble and learned friend is the Advocate-General. I understand perfectly what the noble Lord said, but I just wanted to get it right for the record.