The “unstoppable” growth of secrecy in the UK


The future green paper is likely to lay the ground for a special form of secret court claimed Gareth Peirce speaking at the Frontline Club last night.

Asked about a current attempt by the Government to hold an entire civil trial in secret the acclaimed human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce said she believed the promised Green Paper on national security and the courts which head of MI6 Sir John Sawers referred to in his recent press conference, would attempt to push the boundaries of secrecy further.

I don’t think [the Government] thinks there is a limit to secrecy at all and I’ll lay you odds that in that Green Paper there is some sort of template for a sceret court so if they lose in the Supreme Court on their scandalous attempt to undo hundreds of years of perfectly normal civil litigation with a tribunal of fact actually knowing the whole of the case, there will be a plan to introduce a special secret court and where the security services are the defendant in the case to push it all into secret.

The growth of the use of secret evidence and secret courts is not just not stopped, it seems to be unstoppable," said Gareth Peirce. who has represented, amongst others, the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six, Moazzam Begg and the family of Jean Charles de Menezes.

The lawyer was talking to Afua Hirsch about her new book Dispatches from the Dark Side on torture and the death of justice in which she says Britain has a state whose "devices for maintaining secrecy are probably more deeply entrenched than in any other comparable democracy".

Referring to the corruption of legal principles and practices taking place in the prosecution of the ‘War on Terror’ and the treatment of young Muslims, Gareth Peirce said that in Britain we don’t know what we have been complicit in and may never know:

We have such a particular ability to cover up with secrecy on the grounds that it’s justified because of national security. There’s a battle that might not be won to make sure that society knows.

Gareth Peirce said that she hoped that the coalition government would act differently as so much harm was done by the previous Labour government:

It’s certainly an opportunity because so much of what was bad happened on the watch of the last government. Appallingly, so much of what we believed that was inalienable, the heritage of rights that was built up was decimated. There’s the opportunity when there’s a new regime and this regime has said some things that could be significant.

But Gareth Peirce said she was unscertain if significant change was likely.  Referring to the ways that the government had got around legal blocks to imprisonment without trial she said that they always had another plan to counter it:

It just breeds bleak cynicism that whatever the legal victory there will be a plan to change it. So if the victory in the Supreme court is that there cannot be a civil court that hears secret evidence then there will be some form of legislation introducing a new experiment.