Open justice let the light in on rendition; secret rulings will prevent us learning those lessonsby Andrew Tyrie / February 10, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
In January, the Supreme Court ruled that a Libyan dissident, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, and his wife can sue the British state over their abduction and transfer to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s prisons. The defendants include the Foreign Office, Home Office, MI6, MI5, and Jack Straw.
This is a victory for transparency and rule of law. It shows that the British courts are prepared to hold those at the highest levels to account for “extraordinary rendition”—the programme of kidnap and torture launched by the US after 9/11, and facilitated by Britain.
The case will be one of the biggest tests yet for the new rules on secret hearings. The Justice and Security Act of 2013 provides that in civil cases like this one, the courts can now hear evidence withheld from one party—and their lawyers—on national security grounds. As a result, Mr. Belhaj and his wife could be barred from most of the trial, and then lose the case without being able to challenge—or even hear—the evidence used against them. And they might only ever see a redacted version of the judgment, while the full text remained secret. This does not sound much like British justice.