Committee (3rd Day)
Relevant documents: 3rd and 4th Reports from the Constitution Committee, 5th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee.
Clause 6 : Proceedings in which court permits closed material applications
53: Clause 6, page 5, line 18, at end insert—
““national security” means an operation of the intelligence or military services”
Amendment 53 is a simple amendment, which merely inserts at the end of Clause 6(7) a definition for “national security” as meaning an operation of the intelligence or military services. If I say “simple”, it is probably deceptively simple, because I fully appreciate that its consequences are far from simple. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, has very kindly told me that she does not agree with this approach, and as she has forgotten more about national security than I will ever know, I await with interest what she has to tell me on the other side of this coin.
I make two background points. One is that I am not wedded to the wording of the amendment. This is just the best that the organisation Reprieve and I could come up with. However, I am wedded—this is the second point—to the idea of a debate, so that we can explore the advantages and disadvantages of having a definition. Why, on balance, do I think that there should be a statutory definition? I suspect that, over the years, the absence of a definition has given the Secretary of State quite a lot of freedom. It may or may not, in the past, have been useful and helpful to have a flexible definition, but we are now looking at different things in the Bill and I think that the arguments about flexibility come under more stress and strain.
I will share with the Committee some examples of the flexible use of the phrase “national security” in the past. Some 40 years ago I applied to join the Foreign Office and it turned me down, greatly to its good fortune. I was told in my interview that if I had certain sexual preferences, this would give rise to questions of national security. More recently, I recall an elderly heckler of the then Prime Minister Tony Blair being detained under prevention of terrorism laws, which presumably also could give rise to questions of national security. The rather graphically described “spy HQ” overspend on both the MI5 and MI6 buildings, whose costs overran by £226 million, was able to be discussed only in part on grounds of national security.
Those are some of the different sorts of issues that have given the Minister of the day discretion to use that particular term. I accept that that was then and this is now, but under this legislation, the Secretary of State has the power to use “national security” as a trigger for the closed material procedure, with all that that entails, and which noble Lords have been discussing these past few days in Committee. Given these new powers, “national security” needs to be defined, first, and not least, to avoid the danger of citizens being swept up by a future Secretary of State’s view of what constitutes national security—perhaps against the background of great national anxiety because there has been some outrage or other—and, secondly, and equally importantly, because the Government of the day should not be able to use the phrase to avoid incidents that reveal embarrassment or incompetence. Although the narrowing of the term from that of “sensitive information” since the Green Paper is welcome, “national security” still covers a potentially broad range of definitions. For the purpose of this legislation, it would seem sensible to limit it, perhaps to operations of the intelligence services or the military, or seek to limit it to an identifiable operation that would impact on the security of British citizens.
The special advocates have been prayed in aid a lot in Committee and I am afraid that I am going to do so again. They say in their briefing that there has been,
“no attempt to define ‘national security’. This leaves open the possibility that the Government will in the future seek to argue that cases currently understood as impacting on the international relations of the United Kingdom or on serious crime fall within the phrase ‘national security’. The Government should be invited to make clear, either by amending the Bill or by making a Pepper v Hart statement, that it will not argue for such an expansive interpretation of ‘national security’”,
in the future.
I accept that there are arguments on the other side against this, which can best be summarised by the problems caused by the legal straitjacket of a statutory definition and the inability to respond to changing circumstances. Perhaps at some date in the future, a case that clearly involves national security will somehow fall outside the statutory definition, which would be a tragedy. Speaking against my major argument, I see the force of this, since I have been carrying out the charity review, where we have been trying to consider a statutory definition of “public benefit”. That suffers from exactly the same issues—it changes all the time as the voluntary and charity movement shifts and creates new areas of activity. In the end, I concluded against a statutory definition because of the inflexibility it would impose, particularly given the entrepreneurial nature of the sector. But—and it is a big but—“public benefit” does not result in people going to prison for offences based on evidence they are not, or cannot be, told about.
On balance, I think that a statutory definition should be brought in. As with all the amendments I will be moving on this part of the Bill, this is a probing amendment and I look forward to hearing the Government’s view on the principle, not the precise words chosen. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise to support this amendment in much the same way as it was presented. In other words, I can understand that these may not be the words which the Government could accept, but some definition is essential and I can give a personal example of how I believe that to be so. During the time when I was in the other House, I sought to establish, for constituency reasons, the precise details of why a number of aeroplanes flew over my constituency to bomb an aspirin factory in Sudan. The information was available in detail in the United States. As I got nearer and nearer by asking a series of questions, I was told that I could ask no more questions because the Prime Minister had decided that it was a matter of national security not to tell me the terms under which these flights took place. It was very difficult to accept that because I could read in the American papers exactly what had happened, but evidently it was not something that could be given to me as a Member of Parliament in this country about something which had happened from this country, which had been an outrage and which was based upon false information provided by the American security services.
I am one of those who voted against the Iraq war on the basis that I did not believe what the Prime Minister was telling me—or rather I thought he told me more than he knew, which is perhaps a more polite and parliamentary way of putting it. One reason why I did was that I had learnt—as the French say—to méfier when it came to such a firm statement that it was about national security. We have gone through a period in which these words have been used more to avoid embarrassing comments and questions than to fulfil their important role of protecting our lives and those of our servicemen. I do not think that anybody could accuse me or my noble friend Lord Hodgson of being other than clearly on the side of the right, in more senses than one, so we are not likely to wish to undermine national security. However those of us who take that view have an important role in making sure that it is not misused, as it so often is. In this House we have a series of examples when, because of public outcry, we legislate in all sorts of areas, saying that there is a greater national good which overcomes the normal concerns. At no time is that more important than when we have a great concern about terrorism.
If we look back into history, some of the biggest losses of freedom have taken place in defence of national security and in the prevention of terrorism. In a sense, it is not for those who always dislike the forces of law and order to fight this battle; it is for those of us who are instinctively and almost by DNA on the side of the forces of law and order to explain why we are worried when this sort of thing happens. I have four children. One was taking a dog for a walk when it stopped—as dogs do—on the other side of Whitehall from Downing Street. While the dog fulfilled its purpose, a policeman approached my child and said that he should move on. My child politely said: “The dog is just about to finish”. The policeman said: “If you don’t, I’ll arrest you under the Prevention of Terrorism Act”. My child was intelligent enough to say: “I do not think, officer, that you can do that, but if you just let the dog finish”. It was only through the intervention of a senior officer that there was not what I might call “an incident”.
I know that this does not happen widely but it is very easy to use these phrases as though they help in these discussions. That is why I want a definition. “National security” is far too wide a phrase. It may be that we need to extend it from this, but I hope that the Government will take seriously the fact that the time when we are most concerned with terrorism is when freedom needs to be protected. It is now that we have to take these measures and make sure that we are not giving future Home Secretaries, Prime Ministers and the like the ability to use ill worded phrases to do things that, both in prospect and in retrospect, would do a great deal of harm.
My Lords, I have very mixed feelings about this amendment. I said in my speech at Second Reading that national security should not be so widely interpreted as to give cover for embarrassment or incompetence. I am sure that is absolutely correct. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Hodgson made that point. However, I am very worried when we begin to interpret something such as national security in terms of specific operations or departments. In passing, I make the point that the Diplomatic Service may do many things overseas that affect national security. Many embassies that I have been to have protected rooms where such matters can be discussed. It would be naive to say that because they were done by the Diplomatic Service and not the intelligence service, those matters were not, in the terms of the Bill, ones of national security.
I do not have an answer. All I can say is that you know national security when you see it. The difficulty of looking at this in terms of legislation is that you cannot see it. To give one example, we debated earlier the activities of the Intelligence and Security Committee and the process of redactions. When a suggestion to redact is made by the Prime Minister, it has to be on the basis of national security. There have been cases in which the committee has argued that national security was not affected. In the course of a practical argument you can come to an answer about what is national security and what is not. This does not help the Minister on the Front Bench. However, I feel it is somehow better to leave the definition more open and allow it to be interpreted in the context of the individual circumstances of each event than to curtail it within the definition of the activities of various departments. In the end, we might find that we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater if we proceed in that way.
My Lords, I shall make a couple of topical points in support of the noble Lord, Lord Deben. This is very complex. In the old days, in a less complex world, we knew how to finesse these things in a common-law society. Now we are moving towards statute law. The French know how to disobey the law sensibly in view of local circumstances. They know that you cannot slavishly obey every rule. We have not learnt that yet, so we should be very careful about how we set the rules in case they are slavishly obeyed. Somehow blurring the boundaries is much more sensible. I am not sure that having this whole thing of national security quite works. We have seen photographers being stopped for photographing perfectly innocent targets in the name of national security. I am very worried about the way that certain people will use these rules to stop normal activities. We regard ourselves as a free country but, if we are not careful, we might cease to be free. We have to worry about how other people, less sensible than us, may interpret rules in a very strict way in the future.
My Lords, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, that I certainly did not say that I knew all there was to know on the subject. I understand the concern over the misuse of this phrase to which everyone has referred. No one in this Committee would support what happened to the son of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and his dog or the use of the phrase to cover embarrassment. These things are absolutely not to do with national security, which is being used as blanket cover.
There are some issues and problems with this amendment. If the Committee will allow me, I will give a slight history lesson, and I apologise for that. When I joined the Security Service, national security meant to us something pretty narrow following the Attlee instructions at the end of the war to the intelligence community. It involved the military protecting the UK from the threat of military attack and the security and intelligence services protecting it from espionage, sabotage, terrorism and threats to parliamentary democracy from the extreme right and extreme left—fascism and communism. That understanding of national security, articulated in the Attlee declaration, informed the first tranche of legislation: the Security Service Act, the first Interception of Communications Act, the Intelligence Services Act and Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. It was an understanding which certainly was not articulated in law but was well understood within the community.
The previous Government—and I do not blame them for this—said, “Hold on, the security and safety of the citizen is much wider than these issues”. Therefore they drew up, under the previous Prime Minister, a national security strategy which was much broader and included things such as pandemics and added cyberthreats, energy security and so on and this Government have built on that early national security strategy and now have quite a long national security strategy that covers a wide range of issues.
In this Bill, it seems to me that we are talking not necessarily about the operations—the noble Lord’s definition and that of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson— but about protecting the sources and methods of intelligence, for which the threshold needs to be very high. I know I have said this before in the House, and I hope noble Lords will excuse me for repeating it, but sources of information are vulnerable. They can be killed, and they then cannot produce intelligence that might be life-saving. Techniques can be damaged overnight, rapidly. What we are trying to do here is to protect the most sensitive sources and methods but not the picture of what has happened, the material that should be available to the court which may be sensitive. I would say that it is actually narrower than what the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, is suggesting for the purposes of this legislation. However, the difficulty with a waterproof definition, however attractive, is that this is a moving picture. At one stage, natural hazards and disasters—pandemics and so on—were never in a national security strategy. We can argue whether they should be, but successive Governments, rightly, take different interpretations of the breadth or narrowness of the subject.
My Lords, there was one thing I forgot to say. It is important to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. I think Pepper v Hart applies only where there is a conflict between European directives or regulations and UK law and the interpretation of it. Therefore you may not be able to get a Pepper v Hart —as you might say—pronouncement from the Minister tonight.
I think that is too narrow a definition of the Pepper v Hart principle. I seem to recollect that when this Bill was first discussed and promulgated, the Government were intending not to use the test of the interests of national security but what was in the public interest. That was thought to be extremely wide. The leader of my party and my noble and learned friend’s party, apparently—at least he claimed—fought for its reduction to the interests to national security. Where the public interest stops and national security begins is a fine line, or perhaps it is a fuzzy one, but it is up to the Minister to give to a judge who has to consider applications of this sort positive guidelines as to what the Government have in mind now they have reconsidered the original purpose of their Bill.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, is too modest in proclaiming that this is a simple amendment, since it goes to the heart of the whole principle of Part 2 of the Bill, which changes—potentially fundamentally—the approach to the operation of civil justice, though not of course criminal justice, in the provision of a system permitting, in circumstances that we are debating, material to be kept from one of the parties and utilised under the closed material procedures.
It is worth reminding ourselves of some of the concerns that have been expressed. I am particularly interested in the briefing submitted by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, as it comes from a part of the country that has confronted security issues to a very considerable degree and has suffered considerable harm over the past few decades from activities that all of us would deplore and which would probably come within the compass of any definition of national security.
Nevertheless, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in considering the Bill proclaimed that it was,
“regrettable that despite some modifications to the proposals in the Green Paper, and the declaration under clause 11 … of the Bill”,
concerning these matters, there remain,
“the risks to the right to a fair trial under Article 6”,
of the European Convention on Human Rights, and Article 14. The commission goes on to say—and this matter was referred to in Second Reading—that the Government have,
“yet to make an evidence based case as to how the current Public Interest Immunity provisions have failed to protect national security interests and therefore why a system of CMPs is needed at all”.
The commission affirms that it would appear that the Government are,
“prepared to sacrifice fair trial protections and wait for litigation to be brought by those alleging”,
a breach of Article 6,
“rather than ensure adequate protection from the outset”.
It advises that,
“the proposals are not likely to satisfy the requirements of Article 6 … in a significant number of cases”.
That is a fairly trenchant critique of the proposals. The commission concludes that the Government have,
“failed to demonstrate the need for the Bill’s provisions … The move from evoking a CMP on public interest grounds to national security grounds has been reported as an acceptable narrowing of the original proposals. Human rights law accepts national security as grounds for qualifying rights. However, NIHRC expresses concern that ‘national security’ remains a broad term that might still be relied on too readily by Government and in a manner that is not consistent with its human rights obligations”.
The briefing refers, as the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, referred, to the national security strategy, with its references to pandemic diseases and,
“natural hazards along with increases in organised crime are listed as threats to national security”.
It concludes that the Government are,
“yet to be sufficiently definitive about what it means by national security for the purposes of requiring a court to permit a CMP in a civil case. The risk is that what is now claimed to be a ‘fix’ for a limited number of civil cases”—
and that is the Government’s case; the extent to which it is likely to be limited to very few cases is supported by Mr Anderson—
“becomes a ‘fix’ increasingly relied on by Government to obstruct scrutiny and attempts to seek redress”.
The commission’s are not the only concerns that have been expressed about the issue of definition. In evidence from the special advocate to the Select Committee, Mr McCullough stated that,
“there is the possibility that national security could be very broadly defined, unless some reassurance as to its scope were given. On one view at least, anything, or almost anything, involving international relations might be argued, and one could envisage being argued by the Government, as to have an impact on national security”.
Of course, as has already been indicated, it is not really possible to be definitive about what constitutes national security and what does not. It would be impossible to be conclusive because, as noble Lords have indicated, circumstances change and threats change, and it would be foolish to prescribe a definitive list. The noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, said of national security that you know it when you see it. The question is, in these circumstances, who is “you”? The Government may take a view; others may take a different view. Although these matters are difficult, we have to try to evolve a system that will give some guidance to those who operate the system and, indeed, those who may ultimately have to form a judicial position on individual cases.
My Lords, Clause 6(2) states:
“The court must, on an application … make such a declaration if the court considers that … such a disclosure would be damaging to the interests of national security”.
My point is that, in order for the court to be able to make that decision, that court procedure is the time when you can actually “know it when you see it”. There may be arguments on both sides but the court has to resolve that. We, at the moment, are arguing that in a vacuum the court will have to decide it according to the particular circumstances.
It would, but the court would be assisted perhaps by an approach in which the Government in advance and in general terms—and not necessarily on a permanent basis—indicate what they consider is relevant for the purposes of these claims. They could, for example, say, “We have a national security strategy, but there are things in here on which we would not seek to rely in cases that might be brought”—say, organised crime or any of the other matters to which the commission referred and to which the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, referred.
The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, provides a definition that is both too broad and too narrow. It seems too broad if one looks simply at the definition of “intelligence or military operations”. There have been cases that resulted in inquests—to which these procedures would not apply—where, for example, there might be a question about whether equipment used during military operations was fit for purpose, and that might give rise to a civil claim, for example, by a wounded soldier; we know that such incidents have arisen. The noble Marquess might say that that does not really constitute national security for the purposes of bringing a claim. On the other hand, the definition could be considered too narrow, because one can envision circumstances in which there was no military operation but there was transportation of chemical or fissile substances or storage of such things, which were not necessarily for military purposes but which obviously would count as being relevant to national security because of the risk of terrorists seizing the equipment or substances. Those examples illustrate the difficulties but do not, perhaps, take us very far.
I wonder whether, in these circumstances, it might be a matter for the Government, possibly with the assistance of the Intelligence and Security Committee, to provide some guidance about what would be deemed to be relevant to the issue of national security in the event of an application being made, assuming that the basic principle is accepted and that the Government are found by Parliament to have made their case—and, I repeat, so far as the Opposition are concerned, we are not yet convinced of that. It may even be that negative definitions of the kind that I have indicated in relation, for example, to the national security strategy, might be helpful so that you can exclude certain things ab initio, and you might give an indication of things that are clearly included—military operations, I would have thought, certainly would be included.
The contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, as well as that of the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, have indicated the breadth and depth of concern about the road we are embarking on. It is not beyond the capacity of the Government, with the advice and support of the ISC, to produce not a statutory definition, because that would be too rigid, but guidance that would assist the courts and others in considering these matters at the relevant time. Does the Minister consider that a step worth taking?
The noble Lord said that the party opposite is not yet convinced of the need for CMPs, and he made various suggestions about possible guidance or a definition that would assist on the question of national security. Does it follow that if there were further guidance or a better definition of national security along the lines he suggested, that would go some way to satisfying whatever needs to be satisfied in terms of the party opposite’s potential opposition to CMPs?
My Lords, we are capable of simple arithmetic, and it may be that, in reality, the Government will get their way on the principle. We will keep an open mind through Report stage and listen carefully to what the Government say. At the end of that process, we may or may not accept the case. If it is the wish of this House—in the first instance—and of Parliament as a whole to proceed with closed material procedures, we might come to what one could call the last-resort position of looking at how best to limit any application of the new procedure and how to make the best of the situation, in the interests of justice and the traditions that this country has espoused for centuries. It would be making the best of what we currently consider is a very bad job. However, we are open to evidence. There is not a great deal of evidence at the moment, although there has been some to which Mr Anderson referred—the three cases which seem to have persuaded him that there is a need for such a procedure. However, as I reminded the House the other night, he also said that the Government’s proposals were disproportionate and suggested measures that would have some mitigating effect on the process, if it were to be implemented.
That is the position of the Opposition. We are not taking a premature stance on this. It would be interesting to know, for example, whether the special advocates have, as suggested, actually been shown the files of the independent adviser who is to be consulted, or whether the process is going to take place at all, and what the view of the special advocates is. Your Lordships will recall that they were very critical. Almost all of them signed up to criticism of the proposals as they stood. In evidence to the Select Committee, Mr McCullough said that he would welcome the opportunity, if it were given, to look at the cases that seemed to have persuaded Mr Anderson to accept the principle, given that, as he made clear, he continued to think there would be only a limited number of cases. At the very least, the amendment has allowed us to look at ways in which such cases might be restricted to a small number, against criteria that, although not statutory, might be developed while the Bill is making its way through Parliament.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Hodgson for bringing forward the amendment. It is clear from the contributions that it raises an important issue. I certainly recall that on publication of the Bill, the issue of whether there was a definition of national security was raised not just by a number of Members of your Lordships’ House but more widely. It is important to define the type of material that closed material procedures should be used for. I hope that I can set out why we think we have reached in the Bill the right definition of the type of material that would be considered within a CMP—material that if released would damage national security.
The Government carefully considered the responses to the public consultation on the Green Paper, including consideration of the scope of the material to be covered, before bringing forward this legislation. The Bill makes provision for closed material procedures to be used only in contexts where there would be damage to national security. Examples of sensitive material that might be relevant to a case that would give rise to a duty to claim public interest immunity, and which could also be heard in a CMP under this legislation, include, for example, information from a sensitive source whose life or safety could be put in danger if openly disclosed. I think that example was given by the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller. Other examples include information relating to current operations that would be compromised if it were to be made public; intelligence material shared with the United Kingdom by foreign intelligence agencies; or the content of telephone calls or e-mails intercepted by the intelligence agencies that would not be admissible in open civil proceedings. It is difficult—a number of noble Lords said this in their contributions—to be completely prescriptive about all the types of damage to national security that could justify closed material proceedings.
The amendment in the name of my noble friend introduces a definition. I would assert that the term “national security” is clear, tried and tested. My noble friend Lord Lothian said that it is clear “when you see it”. One noble Lord asked: “Who sees it?” In this case, the judges see it. The Secretary of State makes an application to the court, and the judge determines whether it satisfies the condition that there would be damage to national security.
It has been for judges to interpret this term appropriately and flexibly. The flexibility of the current approach allows the judge to consider the arguments of the Secretary of State on their merits. Of course, the procedure, even at the initial gateway stage, would also allow special advocates to make representations to the court.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, mentioned Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It is important to remember that in Clause 11(5)—
The noble and learned Lord just said that the special advocates could make representations to the court. I am not a lawyer, as I have said frequently, but Clause 7(1)(b) states that,
“such an application is always considered in the absence of every other party to the proceedings (and every other party’s legal representative)”.
Does that not mean that only one side presents?
I think that my noble friend has an amendment later where we can explore this more fully. It is the case that special advocates could be engaged both at the second stage, when individual pieces of evidence are being considered, and, by virtue of Clause 10(4), at the application stage.
I will finish my point on Clause 11(5). Nothing in Clauses 6 to 11 should be read as requiring a court to act in a manner inconsistent with Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In that respect it could be said that Article 6 trumps the provisions expressly set out in Clauses 6 to11.
My noble friend expressed a recognisable concern that national security today might involve serious crime or international relations tomorrow. It is very clear that not only will it not, but that international relations and criminal activity have been considered and rejected for the purposes of closed material proceedings in civil cases. The Bill deliberately omits other aspects of the public interest from CMP clauses, such as international relations and the prevention of detection of crime, even though these categories are included in existing statutory CMPs. I hope that that gives the assurance that it is certainly the intention of the Government that there should not be definition creep, as it were.
My noble friend asked about Pepper v Hart, as did the noble Earl, Lord Erroll. It is not only when European Union issues are involved but when there is doubt in a court case about the interpretation of any primary legislation that the parties can resort to statements made in Parliament that should throw light on the interpretation. So this is not limited to an EU context. We cannot dictate to the courts how to apply Pepper v Hart, but doubtless, in future, parties to litigation will be able to read what I am saying today at the Dispatch Box and, if pertinent, advance cases to the court on that basis.
I have an embarras de richesses.
Can the Minister confirm that the concept of national security under the Bill is deliberately intended to be narrower than the other concepts included in the Bill? I have in mind Clause 5(5), which appears to contrast the concept of national security with the broader concepts of public interest, the prevention or detection of serious crime and the economic well-being of the United Kingdom. It appears from Clause 5(5) that those are distinct matters. National security is a much narrower concept, and similarly Clause 13(5) appears to contrast the concept of national security with the concept of the interests of the international relations of the United Kingdom. I understood the noble and learned Lord to confirm that those other concepts were not within the concept of national security.
My Lords, for the purpose of closed material proceedings and what we are dealing with here, national security is the specific concept, although it is not defined in the Bill. As I indicated, the Green Paper suggested that it might go wider to include some of the matters that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, raised, but we have quite clearly indicated that that will not be the case in matters of national security. I give way to my noble friend who I understand was a counsel in Pepper v Hart.
I have two points. I do not understand why it is necessary to refer to Article 6 of the convention in the way that the Bill unusually does, given that the Human Rights Act requires the Bill to be read and given effect to—in so far as is possible—compatibly with convention rights, including Article 6, and given that the court is required under Section 6 of the Human Rights Act to act in a way compatible with convention rights, including Article 6. I have not before seen in any other legislation post the Human Rights Act the singling out of an article of the convention in that way. It seems to me to be troublesome as it might lead to some inferences that are incompatible with the scheme of the Human Rights Act.
On the same subject, the convention distinguishes between national security in the narrow sense and factors like the economic well-being of the country, to which the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, referred. Am I right in understanding that those are the kind of distinctions that the Government have in mind when they deal with national security in a narrow sense?
My Lords, I hope that Clause 11(5)(c) is not troublesome because it is intended to be the opposite. As we have already heard in our deliberations in Committee, concern has been expressed, even a short while ago by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, about Article 6. The clause seeks to give reassurance and I hope that my noble friend will be satisfied with that. No doubt there may be something on which I can give further reassurance. I think I am right in saying that what is there follows what is in the TPIM Act and the Counter-Terrorism Act. Questions might be raised but it is there to make matters absolutely clear.
My noble friend Lord Hodgson said that he hoped that we would not allow a situation where citizens would be swept up by a wide definition of national security. My noble friend Lord Deben gave a graphic illustration of his son walking the dog. It will not be a constable or a high-ranking officer in Whitehall but a judge who will make the decision. Nor indeed—I shall make this very clear—is the intention to avoid embarrassment. In fact, an important purpose of the Bill is to allow material to be considered by the courts in cases where to exclude it may mean that a case has to be settled. The purpose is actually to allow a court to be able to consider it; this is far from wanting to sweep things under the carpet. If it were the case that, at some date in the future, a Secretary of State tried to use the provisions for the purposes of concealing embarrassment rather than to prevent damage to national security, that is something the court would be entitled to take into account when deciding whether the gateway test in Clause 6 was passed.
There is another point I would make to my noble friend Lord Hodgson, who said that the possibility of someone going to prison was important here. I would like to reassure both my noble friend and the Committee that the provisions in this part of the Bill relate to civil, not criminal proceedings. There would not be a situation, therefore, where a person would go to prison as a result of the provisions in this part of the Bill.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord and I apologise for the fact that I missed the opening skirmishes of this debate. May I put a point to him which is utterly fundamental? The noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, said that we would know national security when we came across it. To put a judge in that position would mean that we would give them a legislative function as opposed to an interpretative function? That should be avoided, should it not? I do not expect an immediate answer from the Minister, but could I leave him to mull over this thought? It may be that a different approach could settle the matter in this way. If there was a definition of national security—something of the order of dealing with a situation that jeopardises, or has the potential to jeopardise, a fundamental function of the state—might that be not unacceptable?
My Lords, I will certainly mull over that point. However, in coming up with any definition, we would want to be very careful that it did not exclude things that should be included or include things that perhaps should be excluded. We will look very carefully at what he has said. The intention is that the concept should be a narrow one that will come into play in a very small number of cases. However, the definition set out in the amendment would not cover everything that is damaging to national security. Factors that are damaging to national security can change in accordance with assessments about the threat to the country. That was reflected in the contributions we have had, not least from the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller. If the definition is too narrow, we take the risk of legislation becoming unfit for the purpose for which it is intended. Sensitive intelligence and security material which security intelligence agencies hold and which is so vital to the discharge of their important statutory functions will have been acquired by them in a variety of ways and from a variety of different sources. Not all national security-sensitive material held by the security and intelligence agencies will by any means relate to, or be the result of, operations.
In view of this, we believe that the amendment is unduly limiting. For example, if information has been shared with United Kingdom agencies in confidence by foreign intelligence agencies, or has been disclosed to them in confidence by human sources, the amendment would not enable such information to be used within a CMP, however sensitive the provenance of the information and however confidential the relationship. There could also be a situation where the agencies have undertaken preliminary research and analysis before deciding whether there is a sufficient national security case to justify embarking on an intelligence operation. Information generated during the course of that preliminary work, whether or not an actual operation ensued, could well be highly sensitive in security terms and of significant relevance in a particular case. However, if the amendment was accepted, it would not be possible to use the information.
I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, who said that there was a danger that the amendment was both too broad and too narrow at the same time. It could also go wider, in that not all matters—including operations by the military—would relate to national security. In fairness, my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts accepted that the terms of the amendment might not be ideal. It is perhaps illustrative of the fact that any attempt to make a definition can often be either too limiting or too broad. The Bill recognises that national security is very much an issue for the Secretary of State.
My Lords, in supporting the noble and learned Lord’s argument that the definition should not be too narrow, perhaps I may take him back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. He sought to establish that national security was a narrow definition by invoking the categories in new Section 59A(5), as inserted by Clause 5, which are,
“national security … the prevention or detection of serious crime”,
“the economic well-being of the United Kingdom”.
It must be the case that national security would include some of those other categories. The most obvious one is,
“the prevention or detection of serious crime”,
which might be terrorist crime.
My Lords, the Green Paper suggested that there might well be the category of the prevention of serious crime. That was considered by the Government. I indicated earlier in my remarks that the Bill deliberately omitted from the definition other aspects of the public interest from the CMP clauses, such as international relations and the prevention or detection of crime, although they do apply in other statutory CMPs. But the consideration of the representations received in response to the Green Paper was to make it solely matters that would be damaging to national security.
The policy of successive Governments and the practice of Parliament has not been to define the term “national security”. As a number of your Lordships accepted, it has been to retain the flexibility needed to ensure that the use of the term can adapt to changing circumstances —for example, changes to the threat environment and advances in technology. The nature of national security threats and risks is constantly evolving. That, in turn, requires the Government and the security and intelligence agencies to maintain their ability to evolve.
My noble friend Lord Lothian suggested that it would be better to leave this open and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, accepted that it was not always possible to be definitive. The current approach is based on the recognition that this is a flexible concept which evolves in the light of changing circumstances. As my noble friend Lord Hodgson said, we want to avoid a legal straitjacket. The risk of any attempt to be precise and exhaustive would be to constrain the ability of the security and intelligence agencies to adapt their operational approach and develop capabilities to meet new and unexpected changing threats.
I will conclude with a pertinent example. Neither weapons of mass destruction proliferation nor cyber attacks feature in what is fortunately a non-exhaustive list of threats to national security which the Security Service is specifically charged with countering in Section 1 of the Security Service Act 1989. But who could deny that, some 23 years later, these activities represent serious threats to the UK’s national security? The flexibility is there for the security services to be charged with responsibilities without there being an exhaustive list.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, accepted that there might not necessarily be a statutory definition and he raised a question about guidelines. I will certainly consider guidelines, but I am not entirely sure where they would fit into the guidance being given to the court, even with the help of the ISC in devising them. However, I know that the suggestion was made in a constructive manner and I will certainly think about it in a constructive way. I do not readily see how it will fit in, but I will certainly consider it. He may wish to elaborate on what he had in mind.
I particularly had in mind ruling out areas—the noble and learned Lord has already indicated some of them—that would not be deemed to fit within the definition that the Government seek to apply. It is an exclusive rather than an inclusive list that I think might be helpful,
My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says. I have already tried in response to the debate to indicate some of the things that are excepted from the definition as we have it. With those considerations in mind, I invite my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I began by saying that I did not believe that this was an open-and-shut case, and so it has proved. My noble and learned friend has referred to the “statutory straitjacket” and problems thereof. Interestingly enough, while the debate was going on, I was passed a note by one of my noble friends showing a case in which he was involved, where national security was invoked in quite an extraordinary way. I do not therefore think that I have yet reached entirely firm ground.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Deben for his powerful and very apposite remarks and speech. My noble friend Lord Lothian is of course an eminent Scottish advocate. I am not an advocate, Scottish or otherwise, but in reference to his remarks on Clause 6(2) about the court deciding, I am told that where a judge is faced with a statement by the Secretary of State leading to a CMP—not a weighing of evidence like we have in PII—to the effect that this would be damaging to national security, the judge is unlikely to push back on it. Therefore, the idea which the clause might technically give rise to is not, according to legal opinion that I have heard, likely in practice to happen. Those who have experience in your Lordships’ House will be able to discern this better than I can. That is something which we can no doubt explore another day.
I said that the noble Baroness, Lady Mannigham-Buller, had forgotten more about national security than I would ever know. It was meant to be a compliment, for the avoidance of doubt.
It certainly was not boasting. It was my remark, not any remark the noble Baroness made to me. I found her history lesson, as she described it, very useful. We started from a narrow definition which has now moved out to a much wider range of threats. Of course, one must accept her stricture about protecting sources of intelligence where men and women put their lives on the line to help provide intelligence that protects this country. I thought her suggestions about narrower definitions were very interesting. As we are going to be using CMPs in rare cases and we accept that this is a dangerous precedent in many ways, perhaps some relationship between the definition and the operation of this Bill might be helpful.
In conclusion, I just say that the shift in gears with this Bill—the widening use of CMPs—requires us to consider and reflect on how we use the term “national security” as the trigger without any definition. My noble and learned friend has given plenty of food for thought and I would like to have a chance to consider and reflect. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 53 withdrawn.
Clause 6 agreed.
54: After Clause 6, insert the following new Clause—
“Disclosure of information
The disclosure of information in civil proceedings pursuant to an order of the court is to be regarded for the purposes of the Security Service Act 1989 or the Intelligence Services Act 1994 as necessary for the proper discharge of the functions of the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service or (as the case may be) the Government Communications Headquarters.”
My Lords, this amendment is concerned with an anomaly that was revealed in the case of Evans v Ministry of Defence. The case concerned the handing over of Taliban suspects by British forces to Afghan security police, with the distinct likelihood that they would be tortured. The security services argued that they were not required to disclose documents in their possession for the purposes of the case because they were not themselves being sued—they were not the party concerned. The defendants were the Ministry of Defence. They said that there was a statutory bar. By Section 2 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994, the chief of the Intelligence Service is under a duty to ensure that there are arrangements for securing that no information is disclosed,
“except so far as is necessary for the proper discharge of its functions”.
Section 2(2)(a) of the Security Service Act 1989 is of a similar effect. It was argued that it was not necessary even to reveal the existence of the relevant material in their possession since it was not disclosable. I am informed by the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law that the Evans case is not the only case in which the security services have advanced that argument.
Clause 6(2) as currently drafted provides that CMP applications apply where a party to the proceedings,
“would be required to disclose material”,
and so it is still open to the security services to argue for what they call a statutory bar, which would mean that they were not required to disclose anything at all unless they were themselves being sued. Paragraph 3(4) of Schedule 1, which we have looked at on a number of occasions, is interesting because it makes a specific provision that disclosure to the ISC is,
“necessary for the proper discharge of the functions”.
It is there, presumably, to counter any argument that might be made by the security services that they were not required to disclose anything to the ISC in particular circumstances. If that specific provision is in place for the ISC, there is no reason why a similar provision should not be made for disclosure to the court under Clause 6(2), which is the purpose of the additional clause I have advanced. It would counter any argument that the security services would not be required to reveal anything unless they were being sued themselves. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for a clear explanation of something which, I am afraid, I approached with complete bewilderment. I simply did not know the point he was aiming at. I do now and I am persuaded by his argument. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will be sympathetic to the case he has made because it is convincing and consistent with the approach to the Intelligence and Security Committee. Given that precedent, I would have thought not that it would damage the interests of the security services, but rather that it would strengthen the role of the courts and uphold the principles that Members across the House seek to maintain in terms of the operation of the justice system. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will accede to his noble friend’s plea.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for bringing forward this amendment. He rightly points to two pieces of legislation which govern the security and intelligence agencies, the Security Service Act 1989 and the Intelligence Services Act 1994. As my noble friend has indicated, they place an obligation on each of the agency heads to prevent the disclosure of information obtained by the agencies except on certain limited grounds set out in those Acts. In particular, the disclosure of information is permissible where necessary in the proper discharge of the functions of the agencies. Information held by the security and intelligence agencies will include information and intelligence from human source reporting, and therefore is essential to the agencies’ operational effectiveness and the protection of national security.
As I understand it, the concern behind this amendment seems to be that these provisions would prevent the agencies complying with their disclosure obligations in civil proceedings. However, it is our view that the amendment is unnecessary. The agencies take their disclosure obligations very seriously. In England and Wales, if the claim is a civil damages claim, for example, Part 31 of the Civil Procedure Rules will generally apply. Standard disclosure requires parties to disclose the documents on which they rely—documents which undermine their or another party’s case and documents which support another party’s case. If the claim is for judicial review, all public authorities are subject to a duty of candour which requires the public authority, when presenting its evidence, to set out fully and fairly all matters that are relevant to the proceedings. Naturally, part of considering these disclosure obligations is the question of whether PII should be claimed or, if Parliament passes Part 2 of the Bill, whether the Secretary of State should apply for closed material proceedings. In a case where the agency is being sued for civil damages or someone is applying for judicial review, it is part and parcel of the proper discharge of an agency’s function to defend actions taken in the discharge of its functions. I therefore believe that the amendment is unnecessary.
My noble friend has made reference to paragraph 3(4) of Schedule 1 concerning the ISC provisions. This paragraph reflects a provision in the Intelligence Services Act 1994 which treats disclosure by the agencies to the ISC as necessary for the proper discharge of their functions. It may be asked, as my noble friend did, why this provision is needed there and not in the context of civil litigation. It is simply because it is right to make it clear, as existing legislation does, that disclosure to the ISC is permitted.
My noble friend may well be raising a case where it is a question of third-party disclosure. He mentioned a case of Evans v Ministry of Defence and, on the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, I understood him to indicate that that argument did not win the day. It is a case that I wish to consider in the light of what my noble friend has said. If the effect of this amendment would be to treat the disclosure into any civil proceedings, regardless of the identity of the parties or the subject matter of the proceedings, as somehow part of the proper discharge of the agencies’ functions, that would conflict with the agencies’ need and ability to operate in secret. This is vital to maintaining the trust and confidence of those with whom they work; or, as was said in the previous debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, information may come from a particular agent, and the secrecy of that is important. I am thinking in particular of proceedings that do not at all involve the agencies and where a request for disclosure is made. It is right that in these circumstances the courts consider whether disclosure would be necessary for the proper discharge of an agency’s functions before an order for disclosure is made.
I have indicated to my noble friend that I will look at the Evans case. Based on what he said, I am advised that it may be similar to and consistent with the arguments that the agencies made in the Omagh bombing case—namely, that Section 22A is a bar to third-party disclosure, and that it was for the courts to decide. I hope that he hears that the agencies take seriously the requirements of disclosure in civil proceedings under Part 31 of the Civil Procedure Rules. On that ground I urge that the amendment is unnecessary and ask my noble friend to withdraw it.
Amendment 54 withdrawn.
54A: After Clause 6, insert the following new Clause—
“Independent judicial commissioners to sit with judges in closed material proceedings
(1) Where the court makes a declaration pursuant to section 6(1)—
(a) the judge in the relevant civil proceedings shall thereafter sit with four independent judicial commissioners who shall sit throughout all open and closed proceedings;(b) the independent judicial commissioners shall sit with the judge as judges of fact.(2) The independent judicial commissioners shall consist of—
(a) county court judges, serving or retired, who have been subject to security vetting, such security vetting to have been supervised by a High Court judge; or(b) retired judges of the High Court, Court of Appeal or Supreme Court; and in either case—(i) being persons who have had no professional or other substantial connection with the armed services or security services; and(ii) being persons who have, so far as possible, never before sat as judges or independent judicial commissioners in closed material proceedings.(3) Judgement shall be given in favour of the excluded parties in the relevant civil proceedings unless the judge and the judicial commissioners shall unanimously or by a majority verdict of not less than 4:1 find that the cases of the excluded parties have been disproved to a high degree of conviction.”
My Lords, let us suppose that we have the first case heard or not heard in public under these new procedures. There are bound to be doubts, particularly if it is a case that has achieved a certain amount of publicity and notoriety, about the reliability and integrity of a verdict that has been entered against a citizen after the court has heard the evidence against him or her in secret. It is something to do with the concept, in a phrase that I have heard, of the secret whispers that the judge will have heard. I am not for a moment suggesting that the judge would not behave with total reliability and integrity, but there is also the question of the public perception of how that has happened.
There has to be a concern that the public may perceive that a single judge might be thought of as being one-sided if he repeatedly hears the state’s evidence in secret and finds in its favour. All that we shall know is that the judge has heard a lot more than the rest of the world is able to discern. Is it possible to develop any safeguards against what would be a serious perception about how the judges have operated? I repeat that I am not in any way suggesting that the judge would not behave with integrity, but he has to be seen to do so by the public.
This probing amendment suggests that there is one way of lessening a critical perception on the part of the public. That would be to appoint judicial commissioners. They would be able to sit with the judge. It would not be the judge on his own, but there would be four judicial commissioners. As the amendment makes clear, these judicial commissioners would be security-cleared county court judges or retired members of the upper judiciary; they would be totally independent of the security services or the Armed Forces; and, wherever possible, they would not have sat on CMPs before. All I am talking about here is a very simple safeguard that would not affect the principle of what the Government are about.
By putting this amendment forward, I am in no way accepting the basic principle of CMPs, but if one tries to make something one does not like less bad, one is not necessarily accepting the principle of the thing—just in case there is any misunderstanding. Having said that, to make this work less badly than the Bill currently proposes, I am simply suggesting that it might be helpful to have independent commissioners sitting alongside the judge. I beg to move.
I have not had much time to consider this amendment but, on the face of it, it seems attractive. Of course, judges are quite used to sitting with assessors on questions of fact. Certainly that is true in patent cases at all levels and, if I remember correctly, the Restrictive Practices Court used to sit with lay assessors. It is true that in all those cases the assessor would be an expert rather than a judge, so he would not be able to overrule the judge on a question of fact. But that was not always so in other cases; for example, the president of an employment tribunal could always be overruled—and was sometimes overruled —by the two other members of the tribunal on a pure question of fact. Therefore, the idea of the judge in these cases sitting with other judges is not altogether startling.
However, the reason I support the amendment is rather different from the one given by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Being a judge can be a very anxious business. Of course, in the most serious criminal cases findings of fact are made by the jury, so the problem does not arise, but there are very serious civil cases where the judge has to make a finding of fact as to which side he believes, and that necessarily involves a finding that the other side is lying. I sat in many such cases and I often felt the need for someone sitting beside me who could either confirm or overrule my view. One surely cannot imagine a more serious sort of case than that which is going to be tried under the new closed material procedure, and I support the amendment for that reason.
I have doubts about subsection (3). I would have thought that two assessors rather than four would be sufficient for the noble Lord’s purpose. It would certainly have been sufficient for my purpose when I was sitting as a judge. I hope that the Minister will give a fair wind to this amendment, which I support.
My Lords, very briefly, while the idea of having those who are not the primary judges assisting that judge with making decisions is not unfamiliar—as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, has said, it has precedent in a number of different contexts—this represents a rather elaborate and perhaps even cumbersome method of deciding these cases. It also must be borne in mind that the special advocates are particularly anxious to preserve the role of a single judge in whom they have great faith, judged on the limited experience of closed material proceedings. In fact, they very much favour the role of the judge using the existing PII process instead of CMPs, rather than advocating the rather broader process contained in the amendment.
Proposed new subsection (3) is perhaps unusual—which of itself is not an objection—but I respectfully suggest that the final provision requiring a reversal of the burden of proof to a high degree of conviction is really going it a little bit. It means that it will be very difficult indeed for the Government to rely on evidence and the whole purpose of the CMPs will be frustrated. That may indeed be the intention of the amendment but it is not a very satisfactory position.
My Lords, I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, about the fundamental unfairness of the procedure by which the judge decides the case without one party having access to vital material and about the public perception of a decision made on that basis. However, it seems to me that the fundamental unfairness, and the perception of unfairness, is not caused by the identity of the judge or the fact that there is only one judge sitting. It does not seem to me that the fundamental unfairness, or the perception of it, will be diminished at all if the judge sits not alone but with two county court judges, four county court judges, or with two or four retired judges of the High Court, Court of Appeal or Supreme Court. That is not the cause of the fundamental unfairness.
Nor, with great respect, do I share the concern of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, that there is some onerous obligation on the judge who hears these cases alone. Judges are used to hearing difficult questions and deciding them. Judges decide, and have decided, similar issues in the context of control orders and they are now deciding them in the context of TPIMs. Of course, there are very considerable cost implications of having five judges instead of one whenever one has secret hearings and it will cause very considerable delay in these hearings. So although I understand the concerns, I do not think that this is a solution.
My Lords, I fully understand the concerns that have been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, however, for the reasons principally given by my noble friend Lord Faulks, I disagree with this proposal. It does scant justice to the judges who have shown great independence in the control order and TPIM cases that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, mentioned. I do not understand the substance of this proposed amendment to be a complaint made by the special advocates at all. My view is that the way in which judges are trained and apply themselves to their cases does not require an elaborate amendment of this kind.
My Lords, the motivations behind this amendment are, I have no doubt, noble, honourable and sensitive. I greatly respect, therefore, the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I respectfully tend to agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, that it may well be that there is a case for having what is almost a jury situation. In such a situation—again, bearing in mind that juries very seldom operate in civil cases—we would not normally have a jury in any event, but the real problem is, I think, a much deeper one.
Imagine a judge having to determine the fundamental issue of whether this matter is to be dealt with by way of a secret hearing. Does he look at the prose of the application by the Secretary of State or the affidavits? Does he look into the eyes of learned counsel to see whether there is a burning sincerity in the face of the counsel for the claimant or whether there are doubts genuinely registered in the face of the counsel for the defendant? Is the judge not placed in a situation that is virtually impossible?
To a large extent the question of a special advocate under Clause 5 and, I would say, to a limited extent the appointment of a special counsel under Clause 8, will deal with part of that. There will be a totally independent advocate, but an advocate, however brilliant, forensically skilled and eloquent, can be only as effective as the ammunition that he has at his disposal, which is the correctitude of certain facts that are relied on by a party. If that estimate, however genuine, is wrong, then the decision of the learned judge must be utterly fallacious. How do you deal with that situation? I harken back to debates that we had some years ago in relation to a criminal situation and PII. It seems to me that there is a very strong and unanswerable case for a special investigator operating under the special advocate. It does not seem from my reading of Clause 8 that there is any power for the special advocate to appoint such a person. However, the fairness of the situation will depend entirely on the assiduity with which some other person or body would be able to examine these sensitive facts. That person must be someone in whom the community has total confidence in terms of confidentiality and secrecy but also their competence to bring to the attention of the court that vital element of the correctitude or otherwise of those facts.
My Lords, in later amendments, we will be considering ways of making what at the moment is an unfair procedure fair, or less unfair. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that the procedure as it stands is not fair and also that it does not become any more fair by adding assessors or advisors to help the judge who has to decide whether to grant a declaration under Clause 6(1).
My experience of assessors or others—whether in an employment tribunal or in a county court for example—in dealing with discrimination cases, which are difficult and often involve weighing proportionality issues, has been an unhappy one. Along with others who have spoken, I have huge admiration for, and confidence in, the ability of our senior judiciary and agree with the noble Lords, Lord Pannick and Lord Carlile of Berriew, that our judges have displayed a very good ability to weigh competing interests in difficult cases.
It will be important to look later at ways of making the procedure fairer, but with all respect to county court judges, whether serving or retired, and to retired judges of the senior courts, I simply do not think that having more of them is going to make it easier. This is not a question of deciding facts, like a jury; it is a question of striking a balance between competing interests. That seems something that our senior judiciary are well able to do without being bolstered by any outside support.
My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Dubs, who has served with great distinction on the Joint Committee on Human Rights and of course has a long record of interest in matters of justice generally. However, I indicated to him during a conversation beforehand that I was not persuaded by his argument. I was persuaded, albeit temporarily, by the arguments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, but in the end I share the views of other noble Lords who have indicated that this is perhaps an overelaborate and unnecessary addition to the framework that would otherwise exist. One point that struck me is that it is a little invidious for a serving High Court judge to sit with current or retired county court judges. I do not mean any disrespect to county court judges, but am not sure—
It is a while since I appeared before any judge whether county court or circuit. I meant the equivalent position. The noble Lord is clearly aiming at that tier in the judicial system and it strikes me as a little excessive. Equally, the provision for majority verdicts and so on would be somewhat invidious. Regretfully, I cannot support my noble friend’s amendment and I dare say that the noble and learned Lord will join the majority of those who have spoken in saying that the amendment would not be acceptable.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, anticipated what the response would be. That said, it is only right to acknowledge the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and supported by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, with reference to his own experience. I certainly accept that in moving his amendment the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, does not necessarily accept that we should be in the field of closed material proceedings. He made that clear, but he indicated that, in his view, it was necessary to have safeguards of the type proposed in his amendment. The Government’s position is that there are safeguards and in future groups of amendments we will be able to discuss the pros and cons of other potential safeguards.
As has been indicated, the amendment would require a judge in a closed material proceeding to sit with a panel of four additional judicial commissioners. In introducing these procedures the Government consider that we are providing the judiciary with another tool to deal with cases involving national security material. In the Justice and Security Green Paper, the Government floated the idea of a separate national security court with national security cases being diverted to it and different procedures being adopted in it. However, we concluded that national security is an aspect of disputes which may arise in any field of law and therefore it is better to keep cases in the ordinary courts where they arise while providing appropriate procedures, rather than moving different types of cases into one court where their only unifying factor is national security.
We are concerned that this amendment would be similar to creating a specialist court because it establishes an entirely different finder of fact for cases in which CMPs may be used. It envisages that the panel would preside over both the open and closed parts of the proceedings and this would fundamentally change the procedures adopted in the civil courts for cases in which national security is engaged. The oddity of what is proposed here can be illustrated by considering a case where national security material is important, but none the less is a small part of the material in the case. It might possibly even be a single document. Let us say that the court made a declaration that a CMP may be used and accepted an application that the document should be heard in closed proceedings. We would then be faced with proceedings which to all other intents and purposes were indistinguishable from other civil proceedings being presided over by a panel. We do not think that is right. My noble friends Lord Lester and Lord Carlile, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, made the point that single judges are well equipped to deal with this. My noble friend Lord Faulks made the point that subsection (3) very much changes the level and nature of the burden of proof and would materially change the nature of these proceedings. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, indicated that it would also lead to cost and delay. I am always wary of talking about cost when we are dealing with such sensitive matters, but that would undoubtedly be the case.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, should be congratulated for coming up with an imaginative way of addressing his undoubted concerns. However, the Government believe it is better to retain the current judicial system in the civil courts and provide the judiciary with this new mechanism of the closed material proceedings rather than fundamentally alter the way in which the United Kingdom deals with civil proceedings by creating a finder of fact in cases of this sort.
I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, who mentioned special advocates. They will provide the type of independent challenge that this amendment seeks to cover. I remind the Committee, as I am sure will happen on further occasions in our debates, of the case of M v Home Secretary in which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, granted an appeal on the basis of a rigorous cross-examination in the closed session. That in itself is testament to the work of special advocates in these situations. I hope that I and other noble Lords who have contributed have gone some way to encouraging the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to withdraw his amendment, while recognising his motivation in putting it forward.
I hope I indicated that we do not want to create something that is entirely different—some sort of national security court. Consistent with the other aspects of civil procedure, this is an additional tool to have closed material proceedings for material that would be damaging to national security if disclosed but should nevertheless be available to the courts.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his response, as I am to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, for obvious reasons. I thank him for his support. I cannot say that I have been overwhelmed by a tidal wave of approval from the rest of the Committee but that, as they say, is politics.
I have a very brief comment. The Bill will, after all, abolish juries. Given that we are abolishing juries, the proposal—
My Lords, that is fair enough but the point of the judicial commissioners would be to help in establishing the facts. I have listened hard to the comments that have been made and will ponder them to see what sort of amendment might take into account the criticisms and would be appropriate when we get to Report stage. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 54A withdrawn.
Clause 7 : Determination by court of applications in section 6 proceedings
55: Clause 7, page 5, line 28, leave out “is always” and insert “may be”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 55 I shall speak also to Amendments 56, 63, 64, 65, 66 and 67. This group of seven amendments spans Clauses 7 and 8. Their underlying purpose is to improve the relationship between the special advocate and his client—if that is the right word—and the special advocate’s ability to carry out his duties effectively. The group breaks down into three subgroups.
First, Amendment 55 concerns Clause 7(1)(b), under which the rules of court require,
“that such an application is always considered in the absence of every other party to the proceedings (and every other party’s legal representative)”.
This is the point that I made in the debate on a previous group of amendments. My amendment seeks to replace “is always” with “may be”. I accept that some, perhaps most, matters will be considered with national security in mind and so will have to be heard in a closed court. However, I wonder whether there will never be any matter that could be argued with a special advocate and other legal representation present. Obviously, one question is: what constitutes national security? We have had a debate about the looseness of that term. At the moment we have no definition of it. Then there are other sorts of information, such as that provided by the police and generated within the UK, which might come up and would not be within the closed material proceedings. I suppose the principle behind this is to increase judicial discretion and therefore fairness—an issue on which the Government have placed great stress. My last point on this amendment is that requiring a judge to hear CMP applications in the presence of only one side under all circumstances does not seem to fulfil the principles of natural justice.
The second group consists of Amendments 56, 64 and 65. This group is about the nature of the appointment of a special advocate and ensuring it is made in a timely fashion. Amendment 56 inserts a new paragraph after Clause 7(1)(b):
“that where a party is excluded from such an application his interests are represented by a special advocate appointed in advance of the court hearing such application and, if the application is granted, for the duration of the section 6 procedure and trial”.
The important words here are “in advance” and “for the duration of”. In other words, the special advocate needs to be given time for preparation and for consultation. My noble and learned friend may say that this will happen anyway but I am told—I stand to be corrected—that there is no statutory requirement at present and it seems to me that in these special circumstances it might be worth while to consider that.
Amendment 64 covers the same points in Clause 8. Clause 8(1) states:
“The appropriate law officer may appoint a person to represent the interests of a party”.
For me, the critical word is “may”. My amendment seeks to replace “may” with “must”. Again, the reasons for that are self-evident and run parallel with the supporting arguments I have given for my natural justice amendment.
Amendment 65 amends the same clause by removing the words,
“in any section 6”
and replacing them with,
“as soon as practicable following”
an application. Applications should not go unchallenged. Therefore it needs to be certain that the claimant is represented at the time of his application and during the proceedings.
The last group, Amendments 63, 66 and 67, is intended to try to strengthen the relationship between the special advocate and the claimant. Amendment 63 takes us back to Clause 7 and inserts two new paragraphs regarding what the rules of court must provide where the proceedings are in connection with a Section 6 declaration. They make it clear,
“that the special advocate is afforded the opportunity to take instructions from the party whose interests he is appointed to represent, and … that the special advocate is at liberty to apply to the court at any time if he considers that any relevant material should be disclosed”,
if he feels that is opportune.
Amendment 66 goes back again to Clause 8. Clause 8(4) states:
“A person appointed as a special advocate is not responsible to the party”.
That seems to me to be strangely indifferent and distant. I understand the nature of the relationship implied by “represent” and that is why my amendment does not propose that but it replaces “not responsible to” with the slightly warmer and more positive phrase,
“responsible for representing the interests of”.
That understands the positive nature of it but does not imply the normal professional duty and relationship.
Finally, Amendment 67 adds four new subsections. The proposed Clause 8(6) requires the special advocate to provide gists of material. We shall come to that in the next set of amendments. The proposed Clause 8(7) permits the special advocate to withdraw if,
“he considers that he is prevented or otherwise unable to properly represent the interests of the excluded party”.
I hate the split infinitive “to properly represent” but it provides a quite important albeit rather nuclear approach regarding the special advocate in the sense that he could draw attention to how the case was being run by withdrawing if he felt that his position had become untenable.
On proposed new subsection (8) in Amendment 67, the requirement for the special advocate to make a report to the ISC about each case for which he is responsible is intended to be an additional element of control. Proposed new subsection (9) would impose a duty and responsibility on him to preserve the confidentiality of closed material, except for the gist to which I referred under proposed new subsection (6), and except where material may lead to a crime that should be referred to the CPS. I have said before about that that I am the treasurer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition. Some of the things that I believe have gone on in a rather shadowy way around that rather nasty practice could usefully be given some light. This would be a way in which that light could be shed.
To conclude, this group of seven amendments is intended to try to improve the quality of justice and the equality of arms by giving the special advocate a more defined role in Section 6 proceedings; ensuring that the special advocate attends proceedings where the issue is outside national security; ensuring that the special advocate is appointed in a timely fashion, before a Section 6 application is made; strengthening the ability of the special advocate to represent the claimant by ensuring proper access; and enabling the special advocate to resign if he feels that he cannot do his job properly.
The special advocates have circulated a paper to which I have already referred. I was particularly impressed by paragraph 17, where they list eight reasons why CMPs lack fairness and effectiveness. Three of their reasons seem to have relevance to this group of amendments. The special advocates think they are unfair because of the,
“prohibition on any direct communication with open representatives, other than through the Court and relevant Government body, after the SA has received the closed material”.
That is the first reason. The fifth reason refers to:
“A systemic problem with prejudicially late disclosure by the Government”.
The seventh reason refers to:
“The increasing practice of serving redacted closed documents on the Special Advocates, and resisting requests by the SAs for production of documents to them (i.e. as closed documents) on the basis of the Government’s unilateral view of relevance”.
These amendments are designed to tackle some of those problems. Some of the others in the list have importance, but those are the three most relevant. I beg to move.
I mention again that I am not a lawyer, but I have the greatest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, who has done a very great service to this country in the excellent work that he and others have done in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition.
I want to underline what the noble Lord said about Amendment 66 and to ask my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench whether the wording could not be less sweeping than that in the Bill. Clause 8(4) states that,
“a special advocate is not responsible to the party to the proceedings whose interests the person is appointed to represent”.
I understand some of the problems and appreciate that there are difficulties here, but I ask my noble and learned friend to look again at the wording of the Bill. In particular, my understanding is that a special advocate is responsible for everything short of something that might put at risk national security; it does not mean that the special advocate has a way out of in any serious sense representing the interests of the person whom he has been appointed to represent. I think that that is the meaning of the wording of the Bill. Will my noble and learned friend consider wording that is less likely to raise any questions about the obligations of a special advocate for the people before them who have no other way to get across their case? I suggest that some wording that more precisely defines a special advocate’s duty and where it begins and ends would be much better than the wording currently in the Bill.
My Lords, I support two particular aspects of this group of amendments. Following the comments of my noble friend Lady Williams, I, too, agree with the wording in the Bill in relation to the duties and responsibilities of the special advocates. In fact, while the Joint Committee on Human Rights was taking evidence, with the special advocates and lawyers in front of us, questions kept coming up about what their professional duties were to their client, with whom they could not communicate. It seemed to me, as a former lawyer, that it was perhaps one of the safest areas in many respects to have a client because there was no way that you could be sued for negligence when you could not communicate with the person whom you were supposed to be representing. It is a very unusual situation to put a professional in. We asked whether the Bar Council had given any guidance to advocates in this situation. I, too, found it very harsh for the Bill to say that the advocate is not responsible for the interests of the person whom they represent and I think that some more positive duty in the Bill would assist.
I also support proposed subsection (7) in Amendment 67, although it is not clear because it is an extension of the professional duties. Normally it is very clear to lawyers that they can withdraw from a case in certain situations, which are outlined in professional guidance. It is not clear whether a special advocate would have the same ability to withdraw from proceedings. I was always amazed that you could often be faced with two lever-arch files of A4 paper that contained the case papers, and when you got to trial, the trial boiled down to one or two key issues. In a particular case the issues may boil down to information as to where the claimant was on a particular day, and that becomes central to the case. So there may be one or two determining facts in a case. An advocate might be faced with information from the police and security services putting a connotation on certain facts, and be unable to turn to their client and say, “Where were you in August?”. In those circumstances the advocate might feel professionally that they could not represent the client’s interests properly. It is a corollary, I believe, of the situation that I raised in relation to previous amendments. In certain cases the judge may be in that situation as well, where one or two facts are so key to a case that, without hearing the claimant’s explanation of those facts, the case cannot be determined fairly. So this subsection gives the special advocate clarity that they can, in those circumstances, withdraw from the case. Therefore I support my noble friend’s amendments.
My Lords, my answer to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, is that regrettably Clause 8(4) is wholly accurate because the nature of the special advocates and the task that they are required to perform is that they are not responsible to the individual in whose case they are appearing. They are not responsible because they cannot tell the person concerned the information that is known to them, as the lawyer in the case. They cannot ask the individual to comment on that information or to give instructions to them on that information. If they speak to the individual concerned, what the individual tells them—the special advocate—may be wholly irrelevant to the case, unknown to the client.
Although the special advocate system is made available as being better than no representation at all, it is inherently and fundamentally unfair in that the individual concerned does not know the nature of the case against them; and nothing that the special advocate does, however competent and industrious they are, can affect that. I therefore think that there is no advantage in seeking to supply in the Bill what would be a fig leaf to conceal the reality of the situation; and the reality of the situation is precisely as it is put in Clause 8(4).
My Lords, it also raises a very interesting question about which all lawyers will be concerned: who pays? When the special advocate is appointed in civil proceedings, does the losing party pay? Does the person who made the application—namely, the state—pay, win or lose? Where do costs lie in an event like that? When you have a provision in the Bill such as Clause 8(4) here, which states that the,
“special advocate is not responsible”,
to the claimant, how can the claimant possibly be responsible for his costs?
My Lords, the whole role of the special advocate is inherently unsatisfactory and is an exception to what we understand to be a normal way of proceeding in accordance with general notions of fairness. However, it is a practice that has become well established; it has evolved. There are a number of special advocates who have performed their roles with distinction and effectiveness, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, said in a much-quoted judgment. Many of their concerns, referred to earlier in the debate, were directed towards the way in which material was disclosed and the lateness and inadequacy of such disclosure. There may be much in those criticisms. They are fairly familiar incantations from advocates, whether the proceedings are closed or open. They do not reflect well on anyone who is responsible for late disclosure in a case.
We should bear in mind that judges have shown themselves particularly astute at protecting parties whose cases are heard in a closed session. If there is unsatisfactory practice on the part of the Government in terms of late disclosure or not giving special advocates fair access to material that will enable them to do their task, that is not going to improve the Government’s prospects and will be reflected, I suggest, in the way in which the judge approaches the case altogether.
While I have considerable sympathy for what lies behind these amendments, I would respectfully suggest that the position of the special advocates is quite correctly set out in Clause 8(4). It is not an ideal situation but it is a situation that has developed, and I trust the judges to respond appropriately to the demands that this particular procedure presents.
My Lords, I am concerned that, if the special advocate is made responsible, there is a greater risk that he will rely on this amendment and withdraw from the proceedings. Although this is not a perfect situation, it is better that the advocate is there and does not withdraw; otherwise there is no representation or no points made independently at all.
My Lords, I want to comment on one of the amendments in this group. Looking at the first part of Amendment 67, I understand what this amendment is trying to do, which is to improve the relationship—or, indeed, to create the relationship. However, the special advocate is not able to judge the damage that would be caused by a summary. It is the relevant person who is defined in the Bill who prepares any summaries of material. I do not think that this is workable because the special advocate, however briefed he is, will not understand necessarily the sensitivities behind the intelligence and the damage that would be caused.
My Lords, I would just point out that Amendment 62, which has not been included with this group of amendments, will deal with a particular way of trying to alleviate the problems about the special advocate. We will come to that in the next group.
My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but having heard the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and my noble friend Lord Faulks describe—accurately, one has to concede—the role of the special advocate and the limited responsibility that he has to the person whose interest he is appointed to represent, one is bound to come back to the amendments proposed by my noble friend Lord Hodgson and ask whether there is not a field that my noble and learned friend the Minister ought to consider—namely the degree to which we might fairly increase permitted disclosure to the person whom the special advocate is appointed to represent. There ought to be a guiding principle, consistent with what the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, said, that there should be as much communication as is consistent with the interests of justice, short of disclosing material to the party from whom some disclosure that is prejudicial to national security is withheld. The special advocate’s position could be effectively carried out without compromising national security if some movement in that direction were to be conceded. It may be that my noble friend’s amendments do not achieve precisely that balance, but at the moment we have a system that is so restrictive of communication that it destroys the public confidence in the special advocate system that there might be.
My Lords, this is an important group of amendments, as are the amendments to follow which deal with the position of special advocates. The Constitution Committee, in its report of 15 June, made reference to the earlier report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and stated:
“The use of Special Advocates has proven to be highly controversial”.
The report then quoted the 2010 report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights which stated that, even with the use of special advocates, the closed material procedure,
“is not capable of ensuring the substantial measure of procedural justice that is required”.
The Constitution Committee report continued:
“The Special Advocates themselves have voiced grave concerns as to the limitations inherent in their role. They submitted a … response to the Green Paper”,
“Our experience as Special Advocates … leaves us in no doubt that CMPs are inherently unfair; they do not work effectively; nor do they deliver real procedural fairness”.
The Constitution Committee report added that even the Court of Appeal—which commended the special advocate system and said that it,
“enjoys a high degree of confidence among the judiciary”—
pointed out that the system is,
“‘inherently imperfect’ and that the system ‘cannot be guaranteed to ensure procedural justice’”.
Those are significant criticisms, even allowing for the efforts made by the distinguished body of men and women who serve as special advocates. I refer again to the evidence to the Select Committee about the special advocates, particularly the evidence of Mr McCullough, who was clear about the problems they faced. He said that the best they can do is,
“very limited indeed, particularly given the nature of intelligence material, which, very often, requires inferences to be drawn from circumstances that may have a sinister explanation … We, as the Special Advocates, are in great difficulties in displacing the sinister explanation if we cannot take instructions from the person who is in a position to provide the innocent explanation. So that is a fundamental difficulty”,
that they find themselves in under the Bill. In answer to a question from my noble friend Lady Lister in the same evidence session, he said that the legislative form of words that could be devised,
“would simply be that there is an obligation to give a minimum level of disclosure, which would enable the affected person to give effective instructions to their own representatives or to their Special Advocate. It would not be difficult to draft”.
That rather follows the line of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, in commending a procedure that would safeguard the element of national security but allow instructions—potentially, at least—to be given.
A few weeks ago I listened to a radio programme, “File on 4”, which dealt with some of the Bill’s aspects that we are debating. It was striking that there was reference in that discussion to the roughly equivalent position occupied by advocates here compared with those acting for detainees at Guantanamo Bay under the American system. A British advocate had experience of both systems. It was remarkable that far fewer restrictions were imposed even on those whom the Americans were holding in Guantanamo Bay, in conditions which many of us would find repugnant, than apply here. Admittedly, there could be criminal proceedings and the rules will not apply to criminal cases in this country, as the noble and learned Lord reminded us. However, it struck me rather forcefully that the American system which many of us criticise provides better support for people in this position than will apparently be the case under these provisions. In response, the Lord Chancellor rather airily dismissed this comparison and implied that all is well. He tends to paint with a broad brush, of course, but in matters of this kind a rather more pointillist approach would be better. Considering the detailed objections to the current process would be a better approach than simply assuring the world at large that all is well.
I have a great deal of sympathy with most of the amendments moved and spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. Indeed, my noble friend Lady Smith and I have subscribed to Amendment 64, dealing with the appointment of special advocates. We envisage not quite a lawyer-client relationship, but something closer to that than the rather anomalous and, as it were, free-floating position that the present status appears to involve. We feel that the special advocates—all of whom are vetted and very experienced—should have a greater role in the proceedings in order to test the applications that will be made.
It would be interesting to know a little more about the experience of special advocates in the other context in which they operate. I understand that the result of the intervention of special advocates in control order cases is often the disclosure of more material than was originally envisaged. I know that the noble and learned Lord will be unable to supply an answer this afternoon, but I wonder whether there is a record of the number of occasions that special advocates succeeded in securing the disclosure of more material. That would indicate that their role really needs to be reinforced and endorsed in the context of the Bill.
It is also the view of the Opposition that the application should be heard in the presence of a special advocate and that the special advocate should be empowered to apply for more material to be uncovered. In particular, the two proposed subsections in Amendment 63 are worthy of the Government’s consideration. I remind your Lordships that Amendment 63 would, first, provide that the special advocate has the opportunity to take instructions from the party whose interests he is appointed to represent; and, secondly, that he should be at liberty to apply to the court that any relevant material should be disclosed. It may be that the Minister would not go so far in respect of the second limb as the amendment suggests. I hope that he would. However, if he would not, would he consider at least providing the special advocate with the capacity to take instructions before seeing the secret material that is disclosed? It would be better if the special advocate had knowledge of what was in that category, but at the very least he should be able to take instructions on the generality of the case, so far as it is apparent at the time of his being instructed. That does not seem to be envisaged within the Bill’s current arrangements. That would not be even a halfway house, but it would at least be an improvement if that were a possibility.
This group of amendments is clearly designed to strengthen the special advocate’s role. It would therefore allow some redressing of the balance in favour of those whose rights as a party are inhibited by the Bill’s provisions. It is an area which I hope the Government will think very carefully about. These are quite draconian measures in terms of the party’s capacity to have a case properly presented. Given the high level of security already involved in the employment of special advocates, and their integrity, it seems necessary to ensure that they have the wherewithal to provide a proper service to the parties and, indeed, to the court.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, makes a valid point in raising the question of who should pay. Special advocates could, in a sense, be regarded as acting as amicus curiae. Therefore, perhaps the state should pay. Given the limited role which the Bill envisages, it would be strange if the party whose interests they are seeking to represent were required to pay. The party would be getting less than the normal service which the noble and learned Lord would be offering, if he were instructed on their behalf. It seems proper—I assume that it will the case, but perhaps the noble and learned Lord could confirm it—that the state should fund the relevant costs. However, the more important question is the role that the special advocates are able to pursue. In the view of the noble Lords who have spoken, and indeed in the view of the Opposition, the Bill does not currently confer sufficient discretion to enable them to do their job, not only on behalf of the parties but also in the interests of justice and to assist the court.
My Lords, this has been a very important debate on the role of the special advocates in the proceedings which are proposed in this part of the Bill. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts for the way in which he introduced his amendments, in which he gave a very clear and concise indication of the purpose of each amendment and what the effect would be. That helped to set the tone for a very useful debate, and I appreciate the contributions from colleagues across the Committee.
Amendment 55 raises an important procedural point on how the application process for closed procedures would work in practice. My noble friend and I agree that it is essential that we balance fairness and national security. I hope I can set out why the balance has been struck in the way that it has and that the proposals put forward in the Bill are indeed fair.
Clause 7 means that an application for closed proceedings is always considered without any other party to the proceedings or their legal representatives being present. The amendment tabled by my noble friend would allow the court the discretion to allow another party into the application stage of the proceedings. Perhaps I can reassure my noble friend that special advocates are not excluded from the process of determining whether material should go into open or closed proceedings. Clause 7(1)(b) does not have that effect. Rather, it is to be read in the light of Clause 7(1)(a), which involves the application for material to be shown to the courts, special advocates and the Government only. Where Clause 7(1)(b) says,
“in the absence of any other party”,
it is not meant to exclude those referred to in Clause 7(1)(a). I hope that gives reassurance.
I indicated in an earlier debate that, by virtue of a later clause in the Bill, the role of the special advocates is there at the application—the original gateway stage, as we have come to call it—as well. At stage 2 of the CMP process there is a detailed document-by-document consideration during which special advocates can challenge each piece of sensitive material and make representations to the judge about why it should go into the open or be summarised, as well as make representations on the weight given to that material. This is what special advocates have done and do under current CMP cases very effectively indeed.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked how many times more information was made available. I am not sure whether that information is available. If it is, I will certainly share it, not only with the noble Lord but also with the Committee. However, in every case under the current statutory closed material proceedings, and indeed, I rather suspect, under those before the Al Rawi judgment where sometimes closed material proceedings were held with the concurrence of both parties, there have been incidents where specific pieces of evidence or specific documents have been admitted, allowed to be disclosed or ordered to be disclosed, so it may not be possible to give the full details in every case.
It is worth pointing out that there have been cases where, as a result of the work of the special advocates, the case for the excluded party has been successful. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in M v Secretary of State for the Home Department has been quoted on a number of occasions in your Lordships’ House during these debates and clearly makes the point about the effectiveness with which the special advocates go about their work.
It is important to emphasise again that the judge will have a similar level of flexibility available to him or her under PII. For example, the judge will have the power to refuse non-disclosure, to permit non-disclosure of only parts of a document—in other words, redaction —to require summaries or gists, or to require a party to take action for refusal to disclose or summarise, for example, not to take certain points, or indeed to make concessions.
Where Article 6 so requires, the judge will always approach decisions about whether individual pieces of material are to be heard in closed proceedings from the perspective of the need to ensure that the proceedings are fair. Judges will refuse applications for material to be heard in closed proceedings where this is required by Article 6 fairness, and can order the Secretary of State not to rely on a particular argument if the Secretary of State is not willing to disclose material relevant to that point.
It is important to note that the application for a closed procedure could have open and closed parts. Only sensitive information which would damage national security would result in a proceeding taking place without the other parties, and I hope this explanation sets out the balance we have sought to strike.
Amendments 56, 63, 64, 65, 66 and 67 tabled by my noble friend concern the special advocates, and from the debate there is clearly concern in your Lordships’ House about the role of special advocates. These amendments highlight the important issues of how they are appointed and how they carry out their functions. I will endeavour to set out why I believe we have the necessary provisions in the Bill to allow the special advocates to operate as effectively as possible while at the same time safeguarding national security.
We wish to ensure that the special advocate system works as fairly and as effectively as possible, while avoiding damaging disclosure. I believe that special advocates are extremely effective, particularly in arguing for the disclosure of material from closed into open, or for summaries of that material to be disclosed. As the courts have recognised, special advocates provide an effective measure of procedural justice where a closed material proceeding is used.
My noble friend Lord Hodgson expressed concern about late service of closed material. The Government reject the allegation that there is a systemic problem. The Government’s position is that we would seek to ensure that all material, including closed material, is served according to the directions set by the court wherever possible. The court sets the timetable and can take action, including adjourning proceedings, if any real prejudice has been caused to the individual.
My noble friend also raised the practice of serving redacted documents. In all civil proceedings the Government review the documents that they hold and assess their relevance. In making their assessment, the Government are bound by the duty of candour and legislative disclosure obligations and are inevitably advised in this regard by counsel who also have a duty to the court, just like any other defendant in civil proceedings.
Redactions on the grounds of relevance to closed documents are sometimes necessary. However, we are not aware of a widespread or increasing practice of redacting information. Special advocates can challenge redactions about which they have concerns during litigation. If the court disagreed with the Government on redactions, then it would rule accordingly. Similarly, if special advocates sought disclosure of specific documents, the court would rule on their relevance if the Government resisted such disclosure.
My noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford, on a point picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked about who pays for the special advocates. The Government pay for them. Decisions with regard to the costs of a case overall are determined by the judge in the normal way, but the Government always meet the costs of the special advocates because it is the Government who wish to see the closed material proceedings.
Amendments 56 and 65 would provide that a special advocate be appointed at the beginning of proceedings in which the Secretary of State has made an application under Clause 6(1). There is, however, already sufficient provision in the Bill on the appointment of special advocates. The Bill already provides that the appropriate law officer may appoint a special advocate to represent the interests of the excluded party. The rules of court under the Bill will, like the rules of procedure which exist for other statutory CMPs, then deal with the precise mechanics. There is thus already sufficient provision for the law officer to be informed and to act to appoint a special advocate. In a moment, I shall return to the point raised by my noble friend about “must” and “may”. The format in the Bill follows what is already the case for existing CMPs, such as in the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 and the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997.
Amendment 63 introduces the opportunity for special advocates to take instructions from the party they are representing. There are already provisions for communication between special advocates and the excluded party according to set procedures. The detail of these procedures would be set out in the rules of court, which would reflect those in Part 80 of the Civil Procedure Rules for TPIMs.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked about communication prior to the service on a special advocate of the closed material. The position is that under the procedures before receipt of the closed material, the special advocate is free to speak to the excluded person and his open legal representatives without restriction and to take instructions from the excluded person. I hope that gives some reassurance on that point.
It is following receipt of the closed material that the special advocate may communicate with the excluded person only with the permission of the relevant court or tribunal which is then required to notify the Secretary of State or the party whose security-sensitive material has been adduced in closed proceedings. This requirement is designed solely to guard against the risk of inadvertent disclosure of security-sensitive material. Even then, there are no restrictions on the written communications that a special advocate can receive at any time from the excluded party.
In the context of these proceedings, it is important to make the point, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, did in our debates on the second day in Committee, that in these circumstances we are dealing with situations where the state is likely to be the defendant. I think the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, talked about the case against it. Mostly in these situations, we are dealing with cases against the Government, and it is likely that the state will be the defendant and the person who is the claimant will have full knowledge of the case that he or she wishes to present. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, expressed that in a very clear and compelling way earlier in our proceedings.
The special advocates acknowledge that communication to the excluded party in relation to the substance of the closed material may well be impossible. That picks up a point made by my noble friend Lord Marks who said how this could be extended. We are certainly aware that special advocates have raised these matters. The purpose of the restrictions on communication is to ensure that national security is protected by avoiding inadvertent disclosure. That is something that the special advocates are also determined to avoid. In instances where agents or sources are involved, this can be about protecting life itself. The agencies have reaffirmed their willingness to continue assisting with queries and rephrasing questions on the closed material, something which at the moment occurs in cases on an informal basis.
There has also been some suggestion about unfettered communication on procedural matters. If there is a problem, a communication about administrative or procedural matters might appear innocuous but could inadvertently reveal something of the nature of a closed case. Every case has different circumstances, different contexts and different sensitivities which a special advocate may well not be aware of and may not be expected to be aware of. What might appear to be a safe question in most contexts may carry a risk in relation to one case. We believe that only agencies are in a position to make that judgment and fully determine the potential harm to the national interest.
My noble friend proposes, also in Amendment 63, to introduce a provision for the special advocate to apply to a court if he considers that any material should be disclosed in open court. The default position in any proceedings in which the court has declared that a CMP may be used is that material will be in open court. If the Government want material to be heard in closed procedure, they would have to apply for that to happen. In this application, a key part of the special advocates’ role would be to challenge whether closed material should in fact be disclosed to the excluded individual; they have had a number of successes in arguing this in various cases. Therefore I believe that Amendment 63 misunderstands the way in which Clause 7 would work in practice.
My noble friend’s Amendment 64 would introduce an obligation on the appropriate law officer, rather than a discretion on an officer, to appoint a special advocate. I can readily see why my noble friend has tabled this amendment because he may well see that there is a possible let out here from a special advocate being appointed. The current discretionary power allows for the fact that an excluded person may not wish to appoint or provide instructions to a special advocate for whatever reason, in which case it is likely to be impossible for a special advocate to represent the excluded person. However, in practice, it is difficult to conceive of circumstances in which the appropriate law officer would not appoint a special advocate where statute makes provision for a special advocate to be appointed and the excluded party wants a special advocate to represent their interests. The word “may” is used in the corresponding provision of the TPIM Act at paragraph 10 of Schedule 4.
That is a helpful suggestion. I am always wary of saying that, as it might cast doubt on what has been put in an earlier statute which is intended to do the same thing. An absolute requirement may lead to a special advocate being appointed in circumstances where it would be almost impossible for the person to function. I hope that the noble Lord is reassured that it is our intention that whenever an excluded person wants a special advocate, a special advocate will be appointed. I note what he says. Without wanting to cast doubt on what is in other statutes, we shall certainly have regard to what he says.
I appreciate that there is always the danger of what Lord Wilberforce once described as the “austerity of tabulated legalism”. I ask my noble and learned friend whether it is absolutely clear that, in exercising the rule-making power under Clause 7, nothing will be done to disturb the overriding objective, which is to enable the court to decide the case justly? That is a fundamental principle which must not be overridden, whatever the technical detail may be.
I would want to reflect on what the “austerity of tabulated legalism” actually means. We have had exchanges in earlier debates and we have set out why an express reference to Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights is incorporated into the Bill. I hope that my noble friend is assured by that. I am about to get to the point made by my noble friend Lady Williams. I will get there eventually.
Following on from the point made by my noble friend Lord Lester about the overriding objective to act justly, if there is not a special advocate in the closed material proceedings, our courts will be hearing only one side in a completely unchallenged format. Therefore, is it not better to have the mandatory requirement? Even having a special advocate there who we know does not have an ordinary relationship with the client enables a more judicial decision to be made. Confidence in our courts will be more likely to be upheld if there is somebody probing potentially at the truth and not just acting on behalf of the claimant. One-sided proceedings could damage confidence in our judicial decisions.
The point I was making to my noble friend is that we are dealing with a rare and exceptional circumstance where an excluded person has indicated that they do not wish to appoint or provide instructions to a special advocate. Before acceding to my noble friend’s point, one would have to consider the almost impossible position that would put a special advocate in. It would be very difficult, if not impossible. That is why this is phrased as it is. It is very unlikely that that would happen. I am not aware that it has happened, but no doubt others who have practised will be aware. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is shaking his head. He is not aware of circumstances where that has happened. The great likelihood is that the excluded person will want a special advocate appointed to do the very kind of job that my noble friend rightly articulates.
My noble friend Lady Williams referred to the particular provisions in Clause 8 and to Amendment 66, which would remove the fact that a special advocate is not responsible to the party whose interests they are representing. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, expressed very clearly why that provision is there in the form in which it is. The Bill makes clear that while the excluded party is not the client of the special advocate, the special advocate is specifically appointed to represent the interests of the excluded person. We believe that it is not possible to go further and to permit the special advocate and the excluded party to have a lawyer-client relationship. I fully understand my noble friend’s point but I think that the subsection is a product of the way in which the role of special advocate has developed. The concept of a party’s legal representatives being privy to information which is not disclosed to the client raises serious ethical and professional problems. That is why the provision is there. I think I am right in saying that it is reflected in some of the other statutory provisions where there are closed material proceedings.
Amendment 67 introduces a responsibility on the special advocate to provide a summary of closed material to the excluded party. There are two important aspects to that. First, the question of whether a summary should be provided is and should continue to be in the hands of the judge. It is the judge who will determine whether a summary of the evidence should be made available to the other party, whether this can be done without harming national security or whether it is deemed necessary for the proceedings to be fair, even where damaging to national security. Secondly, the special advocate, as I have indicated, is not in a position to determine harm to national security by deciding what information can be passed on to the excluded party. Rather, it is for the security and intelligence agencies to undertake this assessment. Special advocates have accepted that communication to the individual regarding the substance of closed material presents difficulties and may well not be possible without the involvement of the court and, in particular, the Government, to avoid the risk that inadvertently damaging disclosures are made. Mr Nick Blake, who is now a High Court Judge, gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights in 2007 while still a special advocate. In that evidence session he acknowledged that changing the rules to allow communication after service of closed material would put enormous responsibilities on special advocates not to disclose information inadvertently. We know that special advocates take that responsibility very seriously indeed. That is why we do not believe that it would be appropriate for the special advocates to determine the summary of the evidence to be made available.
Amendment 67 aims to confer a right on the special advocate to withdraw from proceedings. That point was made by my noble friend Lord Hodgson in moving the amendment and also by my noble friend Lady Berridge. We believe that it is not necessary to make provision for a special advocate to withdraw. The special advocate may already do so. In these circumstances, the appropriate law officer would appoint another special advocate of the excluded party’s choice.
Amendment 67 also proposes that special advocates write to the ISC after closed proceedings. The ISC is a parliamentary body with a specific role regarding the work of the agencies and the wider intelligence community. It would not be appropriate for it to take on a role of judicial scrutiny over the workings of a court proceeding. On the point of introducing a duty on a special advocate to maintain confidentiality as regards the proceedings, special advocates are security cleared and already bound by this duty. The rules of procedure for closed material proceedings make it clear exactly with whom the special advocate may or may not communicate regarding any matter connected with the proceedings. The exception of requiring a special advocate to refer something to the Crown Prosecution Service would put him or her in an extremely difficult position. However, I recognise the point made by my noble friend and believe that in these circumstances it would be more appropriate for the special advocate to raise such a concern with the judge; in which case they would be fully able to do so.
It is important that we have discussed these different issues. I hope I have shown that the provisions in the Bill and the rules of court which will be made under these provisions will enable special advocates, in dealing with closed material proceedings, fully to deploy the skills in which they have already been shown to be more than competent. I ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, this was a menu of issues that I felt we ought to discuss today. I am exceptionally grateful to my noble friends Lady Williams and Lady Berridge for their support on Amendments 66 and 67. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, did us non-lawyers a favour by revealing the full neutrality—or less than neutrality—of the special advocate. Describing my amendment as a “fig leaf” may have been a bit brutal, but it was at least clear. We now know where we stand, even if we are not reassured by it. I say to my noble friend Lord Gold that, whatever the rights and wrongs of the explanation given by my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench, to say that a special advocate has to stay because it is better that he stays, even if he does not like doing the job, than for the case not to be able to carry on, seems to be a strange way of following justice. My noble friend Lord Faulks seemed to be dangerously close to saying, “This is as good as it is going to get. Let’s trust the judges”. If we are not careful, we will put too much weight on the judges and on their judgment. We need to provide some buttress and support to them in their difficult choice and the difficult task that they carry out.
I am grateful to my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench for his extensive summing up. I am convinced by the arguments on Amendments 55 and 63. On Amendment 64, my noble and learned friend said that a claimant may not want to have a special advocate. Given what the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said about the nature of the relationship, it seems that the claimant has virtually no interest in this at all. On “must” be appointed, it would be a good idea if he were appointed, because at least it would be better than nothing happening at all. That is an important issue and it is made more important by the way that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has illuminated the nature of the relationship or non-relationship.
With regard to Amendment 67, I am not suggesting that the ISC should have judicial scrutiny. I am trying to find a mechanism that will enable some body in which the Government, Parliament and society can have confidence to cast an eye over the way this procedure is working and ensure that the very important delicate balance, which we all know exists between national security and individual liberty, is maintained.
The speaking notes that officials prepared for my noble and learned friend did not get to the heart of what I was driving at. However, a lot of useful information was given by my noble and learned friend. I am extremely grateful to him and to all other noble Lords. I am sure that there are bits that we will want to come back to, but for the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 55 withdrawn.
Amendment 56 not moved.
57: Clause 7, page 5, line 31, leave out paragraph (c)
My Lords, I am afraid that I have another group of amendments. In moving Amendment 57, I will also speak to Amendments 60, 61 and 68. Other amendments in this group, Amendments 58 and 59, will be spoken to by noble Lords more experienced in the law than I am. Again I await with some relief the arrival of the heavy artillery.
The purpose of this group of amendments is to encourage the use of gisting as a means of ensuring equality of justice. I accept that the amendments are quite challenging in the form that they have been put down, but I ask my noble and learned friend to see that they are balanced by the duty of confidentiality that was imposed on special advocates in my Amendment 67, which was in the group that we were just discussing.
Simply put, Amendment 57 omits Clause 7(1)(c), which imposes a duty on the court not to allow gisting. That strikes at the root of what this group of amendments is trying to achieve.
Amendment 60 takes Clause 7(1)(d) and replaces the words “consider requiring” with the word “require”, so that,
“if permission is given by the court not to disclose material, it must consider requiring the relevant person to provide a summary”,
“it must require the relevant person to provide a summary”.
As I said, the aim is to widen the use of gisting. Amendment 61 would omit Clause 7(1)(e) because it is again dependent on the national security definition and has in part been covered, as I said in my introductory remarks, by the duty of non-disclosure imposed by Amendment 67.
Finally, Amendment 68 would omit Clause 10(1) because I am not quite clear what it means. It seems to repeat Clause 7(1)(c) and I would be grateful if my noble and learned friend could explain why we need it.
In Committee, all our debates have had a pre-eminent underlying theme: how to balance the liberty of the subject with the need for national security and the judicial process. Gisting is one way to help that balance. I beg to move.
My Lords, I must advise your Lordships that if this amendment is agreed to, I will not be able to call Amendments 58 and 59 because of pre-emption.
I speak to Amendment 58 in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee. Clause 7(1) contains five paragraphs of which (a), (b), (d) and (e) are largely procedural. But paragraph (c), which states that,
“the court is required to give permission for material not to be disclosed if it considers that the disclosure of the material would be damaging to the interests of national security”,
goes to the heart of the issue. Does the judge have any function when he is considering an application? Can he carry out a balancing exercise in which he can weigh the interests of not disclosing material against the interests of justice?
My amendment is simple. I note that my noble friend Lord Lester and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, have a similar one to follow. I will not weary your Lordships with the argument for any length of time. It introduces the instruction to the judge that he must balance his decision and not simply follow a rubric that is laid out for him by the statute as currently drafted.
My Lords, I am certainly not the heavy artillery to which the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, referred, but I will offer him some small arms fire in support. Amendment 59 is in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. As with all the amendments in this group, and as indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, it is a further attempt to address the core problem with which the Committee has been concerned in relation to Part 2 of the Bill: that is, the need to ensure that the court is given power to order a CMP in the exceptional cases in which such a need arises, but only where there is no other fair and proper means of balancing justice and security.
Amendment 59, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said, is in similar terms to his Amendment 58. It would ensure that the rules of court would require the judge to ask whether the damage that the disclosure would do to national security would outweigh the public interest in the fair and open administration of justice. The Bill as drafted, as I understand it, would enable a CMP to be imposed even if the judge concludes that the damage done by not moving to a CMP was minimal, and even if the damage to fairness by denying open justice was substantial on the facts of the individual case. That cannot be right, especially when, as we have previously debated, a decision by a judge not to adopt a CMP would impose no obligation on the Secretary of State to disclose the material, because they would have the option of not continuing to defend the proceedings.
Amendment 59 is designed to implement the objective that was stated by the independent reviewer of terrorism, Mr David Anderson QC, in his oral evidence of 19 June to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. He said:
“The closed material procedure is a weapon that could usefully be added to a judge’s armoury, but it should be for the judge to decide on the fairest way to dispose of a case”.
At present, Clause 7 prevents that desirable objective from being achieved.
I will speak also to Amendments 60 and 62 in the group, to which I have added my name. Amendment 60 would require the judge, if ordering a CMP, not just to “consider requiring” a summary of the closed material to be provided to the other parties—it would require that such a summary of the closed material be provided.
Amendment 62 would require the court to ensure that the summary of the closed material contained sufficient information to enable the excluded party to give effective instructions to his legal representatives and to the special advocate. It would require the summary to satisfy that test even if it would impinge on national security. The reasoning behind Amendment 62 is that it sets out the bare minimum necessary to ensure a fair hearing. It is based on the criteria that were stated by the Appellate Committee of this House in the AF case in 2009 in relation to control order cases. Sufficient information was required by the Appellate Committee in a control order case to enable the subject to give effective instructions, even if such disclosure would have damaged national security. I declare an interest: I was counsel to AF in that case.
To deny the litigant—whether he is a claimant or defendant—at least a statement of the gist of the case against him so that he has an opportunity to respond is unfair and whatever other procedures we put in place, it would remain unfair. The Appellate Committee accepted—and it was surely correct to do so—that disclosure of the gist of a case is required because the special advocate, however competent or industrious, cannot secure fairness for the litigant whose case is decided through a closed material procedure. The special advocate, as we heard this afternoon, cannot take instructions from the litigant in relation to the closed material, and cannot put the litigant’s case to the witnesses. That is what Mr Angus McCullough, a distinguished counsel and one of the special advocates, said in his evidence to the Joint Committee on 26 June. It has been quoted already this afternoon, but I remind the Committee of what he said:
“The best that we can do … is very limited indeed … We, as the Special Advocates, are in great difficulties in displacing the sinister explanation if we cannot take instructions from the person who is in a position to provide the innocent explanation”.
The role of the special advocate will not prevent the litigant from almost inevitably feeling a deep sense of injustice when the case is decided against him for reasons of which he is not informed, and after a procedure in which he has played very little part. This point was made with some clarity in oral evidence to the Joint Committee on 26 June by counsel very experienced in this field, Mr Ben Jaffey, who practises from Blackstone Chambers, as do I. He told the Joint Committee that he would,
“encourage anyone who finds the idea of a Closed Material Procedure more attractive than the alternatives to come and watch one from the perspective of an individual before deciding that it is a better way of approaching things … I have accompanied quite a lot of people who have sat behind me in court and they have undergone this process of slight realisation over the course of a day or so … The realisation happens when an individual asks the judge or asks the counsel for the Secretary of State exactly what they are meant to have done wrong, and the judge says, ‘I am very sorry but I can’t tell you that’, and then receives the judgment and asks me, ‘I don’t understand why I’ve lost’, and I am afraid I have to say, ‘Well, I don’t either’. Sometimes that process of realisation is quite quick but sometimes it happens much more slowly, and the realisation happens as the person who is watching one of these cases realises, ‘I’m in a court. There are barristers with wigs on, there are judges, there are formal legal procedures, but there is actually something missing’, and what is missing is the testing of evidence on both sides, which is the basis of our adversarial system. It has many flaws but, in practice, it has tended to work quite well”.
Mr Jaffey concluded:
“That is why I have concerns about extending Closed Material Procedures to civil trials”.
This demonstrates with clarity the inherent unfairness and the reasons why it is absolutely vital to ensure a semblance of fairness in this procedure, whereby the individual concerned is told at least the gist of the case against them.
It is not just that the litigant will inevitably feel a deep sense of injustice when they lose the case and are not told why. Judgments that are reached through a procedure in which at least a summary is not provided to the litigant will inevitably fail to command the confidence of the communities from which the disappointed litigants come. That was a point made earlier this afternoon by the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames. To adopt this procedure would run the very serious risk of undermining the respect in which the law is held by law-abiding citizens. Those who have no respect for the law may fail to pass on information that the security services require in order to do their job. That, too, would pose dangers for national security. For all those reasons I suggest that we are dealing here with fundamental issues, and that it is vital that the Bill contain the minimum safeguard that the individual concerned should be told at the very least the gist of the case against them.
My Lords, my name appears on some of these amendments, and I will briefly make a couple of points. I say first to my noble friend Lord Hodgson that he makes a mistake if he refers to me as heavy artillery, since I was the most inefficient gunner officer during the Suez invasion. I lost an entire water-carrying convoy, and laid a smokescreen with 100-metre gaps in it. I do not regard myself as heavy except in a physical sense. Further, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, referred to Blackstone Chambers, which is my chambers as well. However, I make it absolutely clear than under the cab rank principle, many members of my chambers have appeared on the other side in these cases. Certainly, although I listened to Ben Jaffey, I regard the fact that I am in his in chambers as immaterial.
The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said almost everything that needs to be said, except that the Joint Committee on Human Rights itself recommended what is now Amendment 62. In paragraph 106 of its report, it recommends that,
“the obligation to disclose sufficient material to enable effective instructions to be given to an individual’s special advocate should always apply in any proceedings in which closed material procedures are used”.
In the previous paragraph, the report quotes my noble friend Lord Carlile as saying that AF standards—that is, these disclosure standards—,
“should apply to all proceedings in any event. I can see no respectable argument against gisting in any circumstances”.
The JCHR report concludes: “We agree”.
My other point is that although I am keen on the European Human Rights Convention setting minimum international standards, in this kind of area it is the common law standards and the standards of Parliament that really set fairness in this country. I sometimes worry that reliance on Article 6 of the convention, in a system where the civil law is very strong, may actually diminish the strength of the common-law system. So I hope that the fact that these amendments have the blessing of the all-party Joint Committee on Human Rights, of the special advocates and of my noble friend Lord Carlile, the former independent reviewer of terrorist legislation, as well as of those who spoke in this debate, will carry great weight with the Government.
My Lords, I agree with my legal colleagues in this House about the need for gisting as a step towards creating greater fairness. In my view, there has to be an obligation to disclose because the detainees in these cases—I have acted in them—are deeply disadvantaged. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has described powerfully the bewilderment and disappointment in detainees when an order is made against them, but they have not understood the case against them. I shall give an example because sometimes that helps us to root our understanding of why something might matter.
I took a case where a young man was to be deported on the grounds of concerns about national security. The gist of the case against him suggested that he had been present at a meeting in a house he shared with many other students at which discussions were held that were of concern to the authorities. Because the gist of the case was offered to us, it was possible to show that at the time the meeting took place the young man had been using a computer that was linked to the university in order to work on his thesis. The interactivity showed that he had been involved in quite complex, difficult work on his computer, which meant that he could not have been participating in and party to the meeting taking place in the house. That was one of the features of the case that made a real difference, but we would not have known about it if the gist had not been given to us. The force of something can only be brought home to those not involved in these cases by the use of a real example. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, described people sitting in the court and being mystified by the process. That drives home just how unacceptable it can be.
I strongly urge that we do this least thing in trying to address the concerns about the whole business of closed material proceedings.
My Lords, perhaps I may take a few moments to make four short points in support of Amendment 62, tabled in the name of my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. Gisting presents great advantages, above all of which, in a headline, is the advantage of fairness. First, it compels the Government’s advocates to focus on the real reasons for pursuing their particular point. Using the very good example cited by the noble Baroness, it enables them to see where they are wrong because an answer can be given if the gisting occurs. Secondly, it shortens the proceedings. If the gist is given, there have been quite a number of cases where the individual has seen that it is not worth opposing the application because he knows perfectly well where he was or what activity he was engaged in at a particular time. Thirdly, it is a fair process, or at least it is as close to a fair process as we are going to be able to achieve when dealing with national security. My fourth reason for supporting Amendment 62 relates to the other words in it which do not deal with gisting of itself. It concerns the ability,
“to enable the excluded party to give effective instructions to his legal representative and special advocate”.
I know that this is going to arise a little later too. To improve the procedure for arrangements to be made under the rules of court, it is absolutely essential for the individual to be able to give instructions to special advocates just as they can give instructions to their own counsel.
I think that this three-line amendment covers a multiplicity of issues and should be supported. I hope that my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench will see the sense of it.
My Lords, perhaps it is an appropriate moment for someone who is not a lawyer to add a layman’s word. We debated these issues very fully at Second Reading and I believe that the helpful amendments before us are a good attempt to try to meet some of the anxieties that were expressed then. Speaking as a layman, what has always been important to me is the principle which has emerged from the history of our judicial system: someone who is accused of an offence should know the case against them so that they can defend themselves. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, talked about how there is an element of unfairness in what is happening. That is true, but I think it is more fundamental than that. It is not just about unfairness; it is that we are breaching the principles of justice as they have emerged. That is what has happened because of the dreadful and appalling security issues which have arisen. As these procedures are applied, every possible effort should be made to keep the priority of justice at the forefront. Anything that can be done to achieve this should be pursued.
I am fearful that a certain sort of tendency could develop, but it should not be assumed that this is a change of gear which can easily be made in the process of a case. There must be a real and specific reason for doing it, and it should be limited to the fewest possible occasions. Even then, it is terribly important that we are certain that the principle of justice has been very much in the forefront of the minds of the judge and of everybody else before we pursue the technique.
We know that in the cause of combating terrorism and the extremism that leads to terrorism is crucial not to give ammunition to the cynical extremists who seek to exploit the impressionable with plausible argument. I cannot think of anything that has the potential to give more ammunition to an extremist wanting to recruit an impressionable person than for him to be able to say, “Look, there has not been proper justice in this case”. From that standpoint, the arguments we are putting forward are central to the issue of anti-terrorist and security policy itself. I am absolutely convinced of that. The people who have put forward these amendments are doing us a good service in terms of upholding the principles of justice and avoiding the terrible pitfalls of counterproductivity in the fight against extremism and terrorism.
My Lords, I should like to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in what one might call a very short interval for non-lawyers to speak. He has pointed to some crucial considerations that need to be borne in mind. I will turn for a moment to Amendments 58 and 59, which are crucial to a fair outcome of this complicated debate. In doing so let me say that I strongly agree with those who have argued for gisting as a way of moving a bit closer towards a just outcome for those who cannot be openly represented and, indeed, cannot instruct their representatives how to behave. It helps the people concerned feel that some sort of justice has been done.
We heard in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, the attempt to define national security in a way that would narrow down the implications to what was really of crucial importance to the nation. The response from my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench showed how difficult it is to make a definition of that kind. However hard we try there are always ways in which it is, as he said, either too narrow or too broad.
In Amendment 58, tabled by my noble friends Lord Thomas and Lady Hamwee, and Amendment 59, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and my noble friend Lord Lester, we have a way of getting back to a balance between what is represented by the need for security and what is represented by, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, the principle of justice upon which the whole of the British legal tradition has been based. That is exactly right. We have heard a paean of praise to our judges, saying that they are very capable of making difficult balanced judgments of this kind. The attempt to give back to them the decision about what that balance is is one that we can reasonably feel is in competent hands, where justice is likely to be the outcome.
What happens if one does not have Amendments 58 and 59 in this Bill? We have neglected this, or perhaps we had an earlier brief discussion about this at the beginning of the day’s proceedings but we have moved a long way since. What happens if one regards national security as having such a primary place that one forgets the interests of justice almost altogether? An example of it is the attitude of the general public, where they believe themselves to be put in a position of extreme difficulty and inconvenience because of a ludicrous pursuit of security. The noble Lord, Lord Deben, gave us an example of that.
Let me give another one, the way in which the concepts of health and safety are now held in almost universal ridicule by the population of this country. They were an attempt to go too far, to intervene too much, to interfere all the way through, in the ordinary rights and liberties of citizens. When you are told that you have to cut down a chestnut tree for fear of a conker falling on somebody’s head, or when you are told that you cannot allow young boys to try climbing a tree, you get to the point where the general public feel that this is a ludicrous overstatement of so-called security and safety, and they become disinclined to take any notice. That is a trivial example.
There are more serious examples. My political memory goes back quite a long way. In our history we have cases all too often forgotten, where security has trumped fairness and justice and left behind a real weakness in our democracy. Perhaps the supreme example of that was the decision to introduce the principle of internment into Northern Ireland’s politics. Just before this I was the Minister of State for Northern Ireland. It meant two things quite quickly. The first was a strong sense of a breach with what has been a long tradition of this country, at least as far as its internal justice is concerned. Secondly—and I will never forget the words used—this became a recruiting sergeant for terrorism. Even Lord Whitelaw, at that time Secretary of State, noticed how counterproductive internment was and how it led to more and more young Irish men and women letting themselves be recruited—signing up—for the production of terrorism. Internment was brought in in 1971 and was eventually dropped. Only after it was dropped was the path open to the Good Friday settlement and to what today is, if not a perfect, at least a much better outcome of the situation in Northern Ireland.
I have not been here today as much as I might have been and I am grateful to my noble friend for agreeing that I might intervene, but I want to reinforce her point. I was a young soldier on the streets of Belfast in 1970. When we marched into Belfast and into the Ardoyne we were welcomed by the Catholics with butties, as they called them, and mugs of tea. A mere year later, as a result of internment and other matters which followed swiftly around the time of Bloody Sunday, we were the enemy. It took us the best part of two decades to recover that trust among the Irish population, directly as a result of events that she has described.
I am grateful to my noble friend. Nobody knows more directly and more at first hand than he exactly of what he is speaking, given his long and distinguished service in Northern Ireland in several capacities.
A second example that I know about, because I was living there at the time, was that the dreadful atrocity of 9/11 produced a great wave of attempts to introduce more security legislation in the United States. After a while this included a certain disregard for some of the crucial rights of human beings there. American citizens found time and again, understandably given the terrible effects of 9/11, that their fundamental rights began to be disregarded in the interests of security. It was an extraordinarily difficult balance that to this day United States jurists feel strongly has gone against the basic liberties of the human being.
The third example is ourselves. The noble Lord, Lord Deben, spoke movingly about his son and the dog across the street from No. 10 Downing Street. I might add that the Olympics are getting almost completely out of hand in the interests of what one might describe as an obsessive view about security. We go back to rather a trivial example. Yesterday I was in Trafalgar Square with my grandson. We went to see the famous Olympic clock that shows how many hours, minutes and seconds are left before the opening of the Olympic proceedings. However, in order to see the clock, which was approximately 40 yards into the square on a gloomy, wet evening, we had to pass no fewer than six security guards, and no fewer than three detailed and closely networked railings, which were impossible to pass, so we had to go round them in several directions to get anywhere. It took us about 20 minutes to cross Trafalgar Square, being asked all the way whether we had passports, what we were doing there and why, and other things like that. I am a great believer in creating job opportunities for young people, but I cannot help thinking that maybe a job working on, let us say, the refurbishment of older housing might be more constructive than sitting in Trafalgar Square stopping ordinary citizens like me from crossing it.
I am sorry to put it so strongly, but we are becoming obsessive on this issue. We are getting the balance badly wrong. This Bill is critical for the future of our liberties in this country and for the attitudes to justice of ordinary people whose support for that justice is critical in a democracy; there is no substitute for civic support for the rule of law. I plead with my noble friends on the Front Bench that they look closely at Amendments 58 and 59, which at least enable the judges in this country to restore a reasonable balance to the clear needs of national security, which I do not deny and which the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, has put extremely well in this debate, recognising that there are two things to be balanced and not one thing to sweep away. I plead with my noble friend to consider accepting these amendments, because they are a crucial safeguard for the liberties of this country and which this Bill ought to include.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Baroness and I am sorry to bring an end to this welcome interval from lawyers and to return briefly to the dry legalities of the Bill. The question in this Bill of who decides national security has troubled me. Clause 6 seems to suggest that the judge has some role in deciding it. Amendment 59 suggests that an exercise should be performed by the judge in which he or she can assess, by balancing the various processes—presumably roughly in accordance with the ex parte Wiley approach—which should come first, the interests of justice or national security.
It seems to me that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, was right, in the well known case of the Secretary of State for the Home Department v Rehman, when he said that,
“the question of whether something is ‘in the interests’ of national security is not a question of law, it is a matter of judgment and policy. Under the constitution of the United Kingdom and most other countries, decisions as to whether something is or is not in the interests of national security are not a matter for judicial decision, they are entrusted to the executive”.
Under Clause 7, if there was a frivolous invocation of national security, a judge could simply reject it. This amendment suggests that a judge can substitute his own view. As I understand it, were the Government to take the view that the judge had got it wrong and had overlooked what the Government considered to be the interests of national security, the Government would then be in precisely the position they are in—that is, having to settle a case—which is the very rationale behind the Bill.
Of course, gisting is a fundamental part of the very difficult role the special advocate has to perform. I agree with my noble friend Lord Lester that it is perhaps slightly clumsy to incorporate Article 6 into the Bill. As a matter of law, the Human Rights Act provides that the convention is read into the Bill, and there is a declaration of compatibility on the face of the Bill. But many leading cases have referred to Article 6 in reviewing the various provisions giving rise to the interference by the Executive in the liberty of a subject, and this seems to be a safeguard that the Government have thought appropriate to put in the Bill. Gisting is considered perhaps to be part of the general approach to fairness.
I entirely agree that gisting is desirable. I suppose the Minister may rely on what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said in Tariq v the Home Office, that,
“there cannot … be an absolute rule that gisting must always be resorted to whatever the circumstances”.
Sometimes it must be almost impossible to provide by way of a gist that which a special advocate would naturally want to know but would be a potential breach of national security; a gist simply is not practical. Therefore, while acknowledging the force of the arguments in favour of gisting, we should hesitate a little before providing that there should be an absolute hard and fast requirement.
I share with all noble Lords a desire for fairness and for safeguards to be inserted, but I respectfully submit that we must not be too dismissive of national security, although equally it should not be lightly invoked.
My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of Amendment 62. My noble and learned friend the Minister has outlined that this is a balance of security and fairness. In a closed material procedure, I do not think it is wrong to say that the national security issue is a higher priority for the Government who are party to the proceedings, and fairness is higher up the priority list for a claimant who has been excluded.
Let us take the example of a claimant who has been excluded from the hearing and is sitting in the corridor whiling away the hours while the proceedings go on, and turns to the rules of court that have been drafted and looks at Clause 7, as we have it, unamended. How is the claimant not going to conclude, when looking at those rules, that almost the sole interest the court is required to take into account is national security? According to paragraphs (c), (d) and (e), the court has to consider giving a summary, but this is not required. To preserve the integrity of the court, Clause 7 is too constrained around the requirements of national security and does not bring in the need for fairness of the claimant, who will be sitting there wanting to know as much as possible about the evidence and, if possible, to know the gist of the case. Bringing in some consideration of the need for the claimant to have enough information to provide instructions is incredibly important. There must be some requirement given to the court to consider the issues of fairness under the rules.
Secondly, although I take full notice of the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, that the special advocates who are there on behalf of the excluded party cannot be the sole judge of whether national security is breached if a particular summary of the case is given, what would be the objection to including the special advocate in the process of deciding what the summary is? Perhaps they could be involved with the relevant party because, as the legislation is drafted, the duty of not revealing national security has in any event been given to the court, so why not have a process where at least the claimant would know that the special advocate is able to partake in that process to determine the summary and the court is the final gateway to ensuring that national security is not breached? Therefore, I support Amendment 62.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, has identified and emphasised the crucial nature of Clause 7. It is the fundamental problem with the Bill that, despite the protestations of the Lord Chancellor, it gives little discretion ultimately to the judge as to whether the closed material procedure should be invoked. Clause 7(1)(c) requires the court to give permission if,
“the disclosure of the material would be damaging to the interests of national security”.
It seems clear that any disclosure of matters affecting national security would suffice to preclude the material being made available. Therefore, we come back to the position that the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, referred to, as enunciated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann.
It is almost exactly 50 years since I first became acquainted with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, as a new student at University College, Oxford—where I was succeeded in due course, several years later, by the noble Lord, Lord Marks—and I have a great admiration for noble and learned Lord, who was a distinguished opponent of the South African regime. I find it rather surprising that he came to the conclusion that matters of this kind are a matter for the Executive and not the judiciary. It is not a view that can be recommended to your Lordships’ House. It strikes a dagger at the heart of our system, and the amendments before us provide the right approach to procuring a level of fairness that allows the judge to make a decision on the basis of a balancing exercise.
I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and others who have laid an emphasis on the need to have that balancing exercise carried out. The amendments in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Thomas, Lord Pannick and Lord Lester, clearly are directed at securing that important balance and fulfilling the—unjustified—claims made for the Bill that ultimately it will be the judge who actually takes the decision; otherwise the decision is effectively made for him by the Secretary of State, and that is extremely undesirable. It follows that the amendments in relation to gisting, which the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, described as a minimum requirement, also have their place in a system which is fair to the parties.
The noble and learned Lord referred to the application of the European Court of Human Rights. Although I am sure that he is clear in his own mind that there is no real conflict with the human rights legislation, there is, perhaps, a question about that. Clause 7(1)(e), to which other noble Lords have referred, makes it clear, in relation to gisting, for example, that a summary does not contain material the disclosure of which would be damaging to the interests of national security. However, it is apparently the position that the European Court has previously struck down decisions made under the existing closed materials procedure on the basis that they were incompatible with the right to a fair hearing which, of course, Article 6 prescribes.
The case law suggests—I am referring now to a briefing from Justice, the organisation concerned with civil liberties and matters of this kind—that,
“a person must be given as much disclosure—whether through the provision of documents, evidence or a summary—as is needed to secure a fair trial”.
It refers in its briefing to the case of A v United Kingdom, in which,
“the Grand Chamber concluded that where insufficient material had been disclosed to an individual subject to a control order”—
of course, we are not talking about control orders here but about a civil claim—
“this rendered the hearing unfair and incompatible with the Convention”.
The briefing also refers to the case of AF, to which the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, referred. There must be a question as to whether the assurance of the noble and learned Lord, obviously given in good faith, that Clause 11(5) resolves these matters—because it emphasises the duties of the court under the Human Rights Act, such that,
“Nothing … is to be read as requiring a court or tribunal to act in a manner inconsistent with Article 6 of the Human Rights Convention”—
amounts to very much. On the face of it, it would appear that the provisions of the Bill, as drafted, would lead to conflict with Article 6.
Is the noble Lord aware of a case I once did, Tinnelly and McElduff v UK, where there was a conclusive certificate of national security under our law which prevented these Northern Irish Catholics from having the merits of their religious discrimination claim heard at all when they were blacklisted? The Strasbourg court said that that was clearly contrary to the convention and therefore the national security certificate that had been cleared by the Minister and by the Northern Ireland courts, which said they had no alternative, was held to be in violation of the convention.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, who brings another example of precisely the same point made in the briefing that I referred to and underlines the apparent discrepancy between the evident intentions of Clause 11(5) and the reality which would appear to be applicable. In looking at these amendments I think that your Lordships’ House may wish, when we come to Report—because we will not be voting today—to support the thrust of these amendments, which seek to import into what is patently an unsatisfactory procedure at the moment evidence of balance and fairness which would leave the decision where it ought to be, in the hands of the judge who is dealing with these matters, assisted, we hope, by the special advocate presenting a case on behalf of the other party to the case.
As matters stand, it does not look as though the Bill adequately reflects these requirements or, indeed, the requirements of Article 6. I hope that the Government will look again at the implications of the situation as it is now presented, bearing in mind the widespread concerns expressed around all these issues by eminent Members of your Lordships’ House, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who was very clear that the Bill, as currently drafted, does not adequately deal with the need for fairness through a proper existing procedure. I thought that he made that case very effectively—as indeed did other noble Lords, legally qualified and not legally qualified—raising deep concerns about how the Bill will operate in practice, bearing in mind, again, that many of us still have to be persuaded that there is a substantial issue here, given that we have yet to be shown cases in which damage has been done by the system which has prevailed hitherto.
Of course, when it comes to disclosure the Government still have the last resort of not proceeding with the case. That has a financial cost and it may have other costs, but it preserves the rationale for the Bill’s provisions in that it preserves the interests of national security. If the Government feel that national security has to be protected, they can effectively stop the case by settling it or, perhaps, striking it out.
There cannot be two winners in these situations. It is certainly less than satisfactory that a case does not proceed to a final adjudication, and it may be that the Government are therefore, to some degree, a loser. However, the question is whether that consideration should take precedence over the rights of the individual, the other party to the case, to have a proper hearing and to put his side of the case. We have to make a choice, and the choice should be, “By all means let us preserve national security, if that is the ultimate requirement, but not at the expense of the other party, whose right to access to justice will have been obstructed”. That is the decision that we have to make. We have to do a balancing process ourselves, as legislators, and I hope that that is the line that we take.
My Lords, I am grateful both to my noble friends and other noble Lords who brought these amendments forward and to all noble Lords who contributed to this debate. The amendments raise important issues concerning the Bill and it is therefore important that the House has had a thorough and well informed debate. I am acutely aware that noble Lords are concerned about the way in which the Bill draws the balance between the interests of national security and the role of the judge in providing fairness for parties in proceedings.
My noble friend Lady Williams is right to remind us—I do not know whether she used the words, but the sense of what she was saying was—that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance and that it is important, whenever there are issues such as this, that we give considerable scrutiny to the way our laws are framed.
Amendments 57, 58, 59 and 68 would, if accepted, remove the obligation on the court not to allow information to be disclosed if it would damage the interests of national security. Instead, the court would have to balance the damage done to national security with the public interest in fair and open justice.
On a slightly technical point, my noble friend Lord Hodgson asked why we need Clause 10(1), which he thought was perhaps repetitious. The answer is that Clause 10(1) refers to the Section 6 proceedings as a whole, whereas Clause 7(1)(c) deals only with the document-by-document process at stage 2, which determines whether individual pieces of material will be heard in open court or in a CMP.
The Wiley balancing exercise has been referred to in this debate and I believe it underlies Amendments 57, 58, 59 and 68. It may help in presenting the case to set out some of the background to this, although I am acutely aware that a number of your Lordships who have taken part in the debate are well aware of it. However, the pertinent and pressing questions are often asked in the contributions from the non-lawyers and it is therefore important to set the response in context. The traditional method of protecting sensitive material in civil proceedings is for the Secretary of State to claim public interest immunity. Under PII, which is a common law regime, the Secretary of State certifies that disclosure of the evidence in question would be contrary to the public interest and that the interests of justice in favour of disclosure are outweighed by that of the public interest. The public interest could include the interests of national security, good international relations, the detection and prevention of crime, or any other aspect of the public interest.
In deciding whether to permit non-disclosure, a court will consider whether the Secretary of State has struck the right balance. The court will consider those aspects of the public interest that favour non-disclosure against those that favour disclosure: for example, the public interest in trials being fair, in justice being open and in cases being able to be fully reported. This is sometimes called the Wiley balancing test after an important case on PII.
Normally, a claim for PII will be supported by a ministerial certificate and will be considered by the trial judge. Unless the fact of a PII claim being made is itself too sensitive to be disclosed to the other party, for example because it might risk revealing the existence or identity of an agent, the other party will be able to attend the hearing. This will be with a view to persuading the court that, in carrying out the public interest balancing exercise, it should order disclosure of the documents in question, for example because of their likely high degree of relevance to the case. If the court refuses a PII claim, the Government will need to consider whether to settle the proceedings rather than disclose the damaging material.
The question that these amendments pose to the Government is why the court should not be able to consider whether there are overriding public interests that point to disclosure. In short, the Government consider that the approach in the Bill is the right one because it is in the national security context. The only ground on which a court may permit material to be heard in closed session is on the narrow one that disclosure of material would damage the interests of national security. Aside from the important countervailing fair trial issues, which, as we have heard and as I will return to, are explicitly dealt with in the Bill, the Government consider that it would be truly exceptional for a different aspect of the public interest to outweigh the public interest in preventing damage to the interests of national security.
The Government have considered this issue carefully and have introduced safeguards that we believe ensure that there is justice for claimants and that the judge will have a crucial role in the process. The Government are committed to putting as much information as they can into the public domain and to complying with our obligations under Article 6 of the ECHR. I think it is important to set out in detail how the Government have balanced the judicial role to ensure that as much information as possible is given to the claimant and made public.
It is important to emphasise that, in reality, the Bill contemplates a two-stage test to any application for a CMP. The result is that CMPs are available in tightly defined circumstances in which the judge is given the final say over the use of a CMP and a similar level of flexibility to that available to a judge under PII. The first test, which I think we went over during the previous day in Committee, is on application by the Secretary of State to the judge for a closed material procedure on the basis that a party would be required to disclose material in the course of the proceedings, the disclosure of which would damage the interests of national security. The judge will grant the application if he or she agrees with the Secretary of State’s assessment and make a declaration that a CMP can be used. I think my noble friend Lord Faulks said it would certainly not allow a flippant use or a flippant claim of national security. Indeed, I believe it would not allow one where the real motivation was not about national security interests being damaged at all but covering up or concealing embarrassment.
There is then the second stage, at which the judge considers the treatment of each individual piece of material, in particular whether it should be heard in open or closed proceedings. The judge has a number of important tools with which to ensure that the proceedings are held fairly. The sole ground on which material may be heard in a closed hearing is where the court accepts that disclosure would damage the interests of our national security. Where the court permits the material to be heard in closed procedure, the court must consider ordering summaries to be given to the claimant or permitting only parts of documents to be heard in closed proceedings—in other words, redaction. If the court refuses the application for material to be heard in closed proceedings, the relevant person, usually the Secretary of State or a government agency, is required either to disclose the material, or the judge can direct the relevant person to not rely on that material—in which case it will be excluded from the proceedings—to make concessions or to take such other steps as the court may specify. This is a similar level of flexibility to that which is available to the judge under PII and ensures that, in practice, the amount of material heard in open session where a CMP is available will not be less than had a PII exercise occurred instead. At all stages, the court will make the necessary orders to ensure that the proceedings are conducted in a manner which complies with Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Government consider that the approach in the Bill is the right one in the national security context. It is used in other current CMPs such as TPIMs and SIAC. In any case, in practice, under current arrangements, if on the basis of its balancing test the court rejects a PII claim, in whole or in part, the Government use every tool available to them to ensure that that material remains protected—including, if necessary, withdrawing from the proceedings or settling.
Amendments 60 and 61 would require the court to order a summary of the closed material to be provided to the excluded parties and, in doing so, would remove the obligation to ensure that a summary of the closed material did not contain material the disclosure of which would be damaging to national security. There is already a provision for a judge to require disclosure where necessary for Article 6 to be enforced.
My noble friend Lady Berridge asked for special advocates to be involved in determining what that summary should contain in terms of Clause 7(1)(d). I can assure my noble friend that the special advocates are very much involved in that process. No doubt we will be arguing—and, as we have in past cases, arguing effectively—for as much information to be included as possible. We agree that information should be summarised if it can be. However, if these amendments were to be accepted, and the Government were unable to provide a summary due to the sensitivity of the information, the risk is that the Government would be forced to withdraw or settle. That would effectively mean that the problem we are trying to solve would still exist. Again, there would be silence on very important matters, there would be no final judgment for a judge and none of the questions posed by the claimant would be answered.
No one has sought to pretend that closed material procedures are better or as good as open proceedings, but we have said that second-best justice is better than no justice at all. The intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, indicated that we are dealing with circumstances where there is arguably a defence but one that under present arrangements cannot be advanced because to do so would damage the interests of national security. We are seeking to allow that defence to be put forward, albeit by means of a closed material procedure.
I appreciate the concerns about the claimant getting as much information as possible and the process being fair. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay indicated at Second Reading that we have to look not just at Clause 7(1) but Clause 7(2) as it interacts with Clause 7(3)—if a party is unable to provide a summary, then the court can order that party to make concessions or to not rely on that material. These are very real safeguards.
Amendment 62, which my noble friend Lord Lester and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, have spoken to, and which was supported by my noble friend Lord Carlile of Berriew and by other noble Lords, suggests that the best way of ensuring compatibility with our European convention obligations is by adding to the Bill words that give effect to the judgment of your Lordships’ Judicial Committee in June 2009, in what I think is commonly known as case AF (No. 3). In that case, their Lordships ruled that for the stringent control orders before them, in order for the control order proceedings to be compatible with Article 6, the controlled person must be given sufficient information about the allegations against him or her to enable them to give effective instructions to the special advocate in relation to these allegations. I hope I have summarised fairly what the Judicial Committee of the House determined.
This means that even where disclosure would be against the public interest, for example if disclosure could put the life of an informant at risk, the disclosure obligations set out in AF (No. 3) would apply in such a context. By contrast, in the case of Tariq v Home Office, the Supreme Court did not consider that the requirements of Article 6 required AF (No. 3)-type disclosure to be provided in an unlawful discrimination claim against the Home Office, brought by an immigration officer whose security clearance had been withdrawn. I can assure the Committee that the Government share the desire of all those who have contributed to the debate and those who have not to ensure that, wherever closed proceedings are used, they are compatible with Article 6. However, I will seek to assure your Lordships that the provisions in the Bill achieve this. That was a specific assurance that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, sought.
The proposals have been guided by fundamental rights to justice and fairness, including those in the European Convention on Human Rights. The convention itself recognises that it may sometimes be necessary to restrict openness in court proceedings where national security requires it. I have made a statement of compatibility under the Human Rights Act 1998 in relation to this Bill. As we have frequently reflected in our deliberations, there are specific provisions in Clause 11(5)(c) which emphasise that nothing in Clauses 6 to 10 are to be read as requiring a court or tribunal to act in a manner inconsistent with Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. That is specifically the point of reassurance sought by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. Clause 11(5)(c), as it were, trumps anything in Clauses 6 to 10. Perhaps that is where the noble Lord saw a weakness. I hope that reassures him about the purpose of including that.
My difficulty with my noble and learned friend’s reply is that he keeps saying: “I hope that Members of the House will be reassured”, but we need reassurance in the legislation itself. The problem is that there are no controlling principles. We do not have a written constitutional charter of rights, the nearest we have is the European convention, which is pretty vague and not tailored to these particular needs. When we come to Amendment 90 at night-time on Monday, where the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and I have tried to put in some constitutional standards, it will be interesting to see whether at least that is accepted. Does my noble and learned friend follow that what we seek to do is put some controlling criteria, other than ministerial assurances, in the Bill to make it constitutionally appropriate?
I understand the point being made by my noble friend, but what is in the Bill goes beyond a ministerial assurance. What is in the Bill is that nothing in Clauses 6 to 11 or in any provision made by virtue of them is to be read as requiring a court or tribunal to act in a manner inconsistent with Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. I will come to this more specifically in a moment, but these will be matters that will be determined by the court; it is not a matter of ministerial assurance. As we saw in the case of AF (No 3), the courts asserted what was required to make the proceedings consistent with the requirements of Article 6. What is required to achieve fairness in accordance with Article 6 is a matter to be determined by the courts in the context of each individual case. The AF (No 3) disclosure requirement will, of course, be applied by the court when it considers that the requirements of Article 6 so demand to ensure that fair trial requirements are met. However, this does not mean that the AF (No 3) formulation would or should apply in all cases that use these closed procedures. We submit that we must allow the judges to assess the level of disclosure required in each case to meet Article 6.
My noble friend Lord Faulks said that he anticipated that I might refer to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said in the case of Tariq. I fully intended to do so. The deputy president of the Supreme Court said in that case:
“There cannot, after all, be an absolute rule that gisting must always be resorted to whatever the circumstances. There are no hard edged rules in this area of the law”.
Reference has already been made in this debate to Mr David Anderson QC, who is in favour of gisting. In January this year, in evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, reflecting on what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said, he said:
“The courts have … said that it is not a hard-edged area of law. In other words, it is one for them to decide on rather than for Parliament”.
Later he said,
“it is not an area where certainty can sensibly be provided by legislation ... I do not think I would like the legislation very much if it came out”.
Let me also remind your Lordships that the Justice and Security Green Paper suggested that we might consider legislating to clarify the context in which the AF (No 3) gisting requirement does not apply. The Government listened to the consultation responses, which held a majority view that situations in which the AF (No 3) disclosure requirement applied needed to be considered on a case-by-case basis in the courts. The Bingham Centre said:
“Establishing a statutory presumption as to the circumstances in which the AF (No 3) disclosure requirement applies would not avoid the need for the precise parameters of the principle being worked out in the courts. This issue cannot be resolved by domestic legislation alone but requires careful and detailed reference to ECHR and EU law. The content of UK legislation could not have any appreciable influence on the CJEU or ECtHR. Therefore we see no value in this suggestion. If anything, a legislative presumption would only complicate the law and lead to more rather than less litigation”.
I do not think there is any distance between us in trying to ensure fairness. I recognise the importance and significance of all the amendments, not least Amendment 62, but our position is that this would put hard edges into law where it is not desirable and where the courts themselves have indicated that they should be determined on a case-by-case basis. As I have also indicated, if in a particular set of circumstances the court’s view was that the gisting level required in AF (No 3) was the one required in that case, the regard the courts must have to Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights allows them to require that. The common law is as much part of our legal system as statute law, and I believe that the courts will continue to be the guardians of individual rights to a fair trial and that further legislation on this provision is not only unnecessary but may even be counterproductive.
The noble and learned Lord in his full reply referred to the special advocates being on board and being involved in the process. Does he agree they are involved in the process with one and a half hands tied behind their back, because they will have had no opportunity to discuss the really crucial issues with their client, who might well have something relevant to contribute to the deliberations going on? When we talk about it being better to have an imperfect system of justice than no system at all, what concerns some of us is that this is an exceptional process and the Government should look seriously at a belt and braces approach to make sure that it is exceptional. Otherwise there is a tendency over time for it to become just an alternative.
I fully accept—and it was said from this Dispatch Box in earlier debates—that it is very much seen as an exceptional procedure. It is not intended to be run-of-the-mill, and nor would we wish it to be seen as “creep”. It is meant to apply in only a very limited number of cases where the Government believe that they have a proper defence to cases made against them, but where at the present time it is not possible to deploy that defence because it would mean disclosing material which would be damaging to the national interest.
As for the earlier point, it has been said on a number of occasions that the role of the special advocates is crucial. It will be crucial in arguing over and determining which pieces of material should be disclosed and which should not and in making representations as to what should or should not be in any gist. However, as I indicated in an earlier debate, it is important to remember, too, that we are dealing with civil proceedings in which the defendant will almost certainly be the state and the claimant will be the person who has been excluded. Therefore, they will know full well what their case is as it is their own case that they will be advancing. Before the closed material is made available to the special advocate, there will be an opportunity for the person who knows what his or her case is to discuss it with the special advocate.
Finally, many judges have gone on record as praising the very valuable work that special advocates do in these cases. It would be wrong to suggest otherwise. Perhaps the noble Lord is not suggesting that, but it would be wrong to give the impression that special advocates are totally hamstrung. They have a very good track record, as has been recognised by a number of senior judges.
My Lords, the length of the debate and the breadth and depth of contributions have indicated how important gisting is. My noble friend Lord Carlile spoke about fairness, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, about balance, and my noble friend Lord Faulks about the dangers of not giving sufficient weight to the demands of national security. One of the problems with not practising law is that you do not have real-life examples, such as those produced by several noble Lords this evening, to back up the impact and give bite to their particular recommendations.
I shall briefly repeat what I said at Second Reading: my experience of working with, speaking to and meeting young Muslim men and women as part of the Speaker’s outreach programme in Birmingham and the West Midlands shows that they have a keen interest in how our justice system works and whether it delivers fairness and balance to all sections of our community. While these are probing amendments, I am sure that this is an issue to which we will come back. Now that my noble and learned friend has given us a lot of helpful information and a careful explanation of the procedure to be gone through, we will have time over the summer to reflect on this. We shall see where we come out, but I am sure we will want to have a further crack at this to make sure that our society and the communities within it do not feel that the justice system does not deliver fair, open and transparent justice to them. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 57 withdrawn.
Amendments 58 to 63 not moved.
Clause 7 agreed.
Clause 8 : Appointment of special advocate
Amendments 64 to 67 not moved.
Clause 8 agreed.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.28 pm.