Secrecy is undermining justice

Letter to the Guardian, 12 June 2009

We welcome the House of Lords' decision on control orders and the right of those affected to know what they are accused of (Secret evidence on terror suspects ruled illegal, 11 June). But there is a long way to go. The Lords has ruled (following the European court of human rights) that secret evidence cannot be used to keep people on control orders, but this decision is unlikely to affect those threatened with deportation, to whom a different and less just legal regime applies.

On the basis of secret evidence "terrorist suspects" have been detained without charge for years awaiting deportation. A leading QC who has acted in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (where national security deportation cases are heard) described her deep shame when she heard an appellant ask the judge: "Why are you sending me to prison?" To which the judge replied: "I cannot tell you that."

Since April, 10 Pakistani students have been detained pending deportation on national security grounds, although there is not a shred of evidence against them which they are aware of, and they were released without charge. Secret evidence cannot be challenged and is inherently unreliable. Secret evidence in national security cases may have come from overseas intelligence services and have been obtained by torture. There are more than enough offences on the statute book for anyone genuinely suspected of terrorism or support for terrorism to be tried in open court before a jury.

A basic principle, enshrined in our common law for over 800 years, is that an accused person has the right to know the evidence against them, to be able to defend themselves. Britain's use of secret evidence tarnishes the country's reputation and the rule of law. An early day motion tabled by Diane Abbott MP has been signed by over 70 MPs calling on the government to review the use of secret evidence.

Frances Webber, Victoria Brittain, Bruce Kent, Lynne Featherstone MP, Jean Lambert MEP, Diane Abbott MP, Anne GrayCoalition Against Secret Evidence
Amrit Wilson
Justice for the North West 10
Coalition Against Secret Evidence