Sunday, 30 July 2017

Secret evidence for secret courts

"Over the years the UK Column News has highlighted the problem of secret courts. One example is that of Melanie Shaw, who was subjected to a secret court in the sense that the hearing was not listed publicly. On top of that Melanie has had hearings...where her attendance was by video link and that video link disconnected at critical moments leaving her excluded from her own hearings which proceeded without her..."

"That`s correct, " says Brian Gerrish.

"Well, there`s another even more insidious version of secret justice in Britain, if that`s possible, because while Mel`s problems are a breach of the regulations... there is a possibility that they can be dealt with - there`s a largely unknown issue of special advocates and this one - well it`s carrying on openly and largely unchallenged. So the role of the special advocate according to the government has developed in proceedings before a wide variety of forums, both statutory and non-statutory in origin - these are the government`s words - where a party with the permission of the forum seeks to rely upon closed evidence. Closed evidence may raise issues concerning national security. Individuals and their legal representatives are excluded from hearings where closed evidence is used..."

"Special advocates perform an important role - the government`s words again - by representing the interests of the excluded party in those hearings and subjecting the sensitive material to scrutiny thereby promoting fairness in the proceedings. So let`s just understand this. People who are subject to a court proceeding where there`s a decision to include closed evidence; those defendants are not entitled to see the nature of the evidence; they`re not entitled to rebut the evidence. A third party who may or may not know anything about their case goes in and represents them - I guess somebody who`s been security vetted."

"Isn`t this the old Soviet system Mike?"

"Now `Justice`, the pressure group - I say mostly unchallenged - but `Justice` produced this 2009 report on secret evidence and they said:

"Special advocates, however, are not the cause of unfairness in proceedings. Rather, they are merely the most common and most visible symptom of the unfairness caused by the decision to allow evidence to be withheld from the defendant."

"So people have been commenting on this. It hasn`t had a huge amount of media coverage and in 2012 50 special advocates, either serving or former special advocates, submitted this memorandum on the Justice and Security Bill to the Joint Committee on Human Rights and they said :

"`We remain of the view we expressed in our response to the consultation (and endorsed by the Joint Committee on Human Rights): that [closed proceedings] are inherently unfair and contrary to the common law tradition` ... So this is the position of various people discussing this subject."

"And significant that the expression common law has appeared in that. Very significant."

"Absolutely. So why am I mentioning this today? Well because the Attorney General is seeking to appoint new members of his panel of special advocates ... So just to explain what he`s saying:  The special advocate competition is open to both self-employed barristers and solicitor advocates with at least five years advocacy experience. But he wishes to recruit advocates at the junior level; in particular those with expertise in family and employment tribunal work; and completed applications must be submitted by noon on 18 September."

"Now I can see Brian in the case of a terrorist trial some people may take the view that there`s national security issues at stake; and therefore perhaps some evidence needs to be heard in a closed court. I for the life of me cannot work out how this is appropriate to the family law division. It can`t possibly be about divorce. So this must be about the taking of children."

Brian Gerrish: "Well this is absolutely it and I come back to ... a case that is taking place in Sheffield. We`re not able to give details of the case but what we can say is that where there has been video and audio evidence of a child being abused that evidence is simply being shut out of court; so therefore there`s no case. And the other thing I`m going to say is that evidence from around the country - it doesn`t matter whether it`s Scotland, Wales, Oxford, Cornwall - of the use of the psychiatric system to silence people who`ve got evidence of child abuse; that is being used as a template. So use of the psychiatric system, preventing people seeing evidence against them in court ... this is the Soviet style system and this cannot be an accident. This must be deliberate policy that is being brought in... "

"Where evidence of the abuse of children is coming to the surface, particularly where that evidence relates to establishment figures or politicians, then the tactic first of all is the attempt to brand the witness, the person coming forward with that evidence, as having some form of mental health issue. And we know of several cases where people, with the connivance of local authorities, local mental health teams, and of course the police, have simply been put into psychiatric units on the basis of accusations that they`re somehow mentally ill. This is very very dark and sinister activity but it is happening in Britain today, I believe, to protect the government.

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