Govt defends trial plans
Ministers were forced this morning to defend plans to extend secret trials, with the Prime Minister insisting that any changes would be implemented in a "responsible" fashion.
David Cameron told journalists that the Government would continue to protect civil liberty. He said: "As I see it there are some significant gaps in our defences, because of the moving on of technology and in our defences because it isn’t currently possible to use intelligence information in a court without endangering national security. We will plug those gaps in a way that will protect civil liberties. It is very important the government makes progress on these vital agenda."
As Liberal Democrats said they had serious concerns about the plans, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke argued that the change would make justice "more effective." Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, he said: “The problem is you can't have your British intelligence officers giving evidence in open court, saying my source is X, this is the technology we use, we know this, and at the moment this evidence just isn’t given. Now I would like, actually, the judge to be able to take that evidence into account, but it’s got to be in some closed procedure.”
Nick Clegg has warned that he cannot support the plans as they are, but Mr Clarke stressed that the Deputy Prime Minister would be part of a "collective" government decision on how to proceed.
Mr Clarke said: "We're consulting on this question of how you get intelligence evidence into court, which isn’t given at the moment, and we’re consulting in a way that I hope will make it more accountable, and make justice actually more effective."
His remarks came as an influential group of MPs and peers attacked proposals to hold more inquests and court cases behind closed doors.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights said there was "no compelling evidence" to support the Coalition's plans. Mr Clarke admitted he had not convinced the committee but said he would "have another go".
The plans are aimed at ensuring sensitive evidence from the security services is not made public in open courts.
Tory MP David Davis also criticised the proposals, telling BBC Radio 5Live this morning: "Secret agencies naturally do not want to come out in a public area, they don't want to people to know what they are doing. Very often that is used to cover up embarrassment and that is the real problem."