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Senior Tory mulls changes to secret courts bill

28 January 2013

4:15 PM

28 January 2013

4:15 PM

After publishing a paper highly critical of the Justice and Security Bill this morning, Andrew Tyrie is now considering making amendments to the legislation, I understand.

MPs in a Bill committee will scrutinise the legislation line by line this week, and are expected to report to the House of Commons by mid-February. Tyrie, who also chairs the influential Treasury Select Committee, is considering tabling amendments to the Bill to be debated at that report stage.

The Centre for Policy Studies paper which Tyrie has co-authored with Anthony Peto QC says that ‘part 2 of the Bill should, preferably, be withdrawn, at least until the government can come back with more balanced proposals, accompanied by a more rigorous explanation of the need for them’. Acknowledging that ‘regrettably, it is likely that Part 2 in some form will be passed’, the pair give six recommendations for amendments to the legislation. These could well form the basis for Tyrie’s own changes to the Bill:

1. A judge can only order a secret hearing if they have exhausted the Public Interest Immunity system.

2. The Bill should contain a sunset clause limiting the life of the legislation to five years.

3. Those parties excluded from the hearing should receive a summary of the national security-sensitive material.

4. The Bill should include legislation ‘to mitigate the incurable unfairness’ or secret hearings.

5. When a closed material proceeding is approved, the judge should still be able use his or her discretion to balance the interests of justice against the interests of national security when determining whether evidence should be disclosed.

6. The government’s bar on disclosure of information from foreign intelligence agencies or from UK intelligence agencies where the identities of officers or sources might be revealed should not automatically extent to all information from the intelligence services.

The membership of the Bill committee is listed here: none of the Tories look likely to kick up a fuss, funnily enough. There is also an ongoing Liberal Democrat grassroots campaign to scrap part 2 of the legislation: something the party’s MPs have not been entirely sympathetic to.  With report stage just a month before the party’s spring conference, there’s a chance this could cause an internal row for the Lib Dems when activists meet MPs.

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