David Cameron defends secret courts and web monitoring plans


David Cameron: "It is the job of the prime minister to make sure we do everything that is necessary to keep our country safe"

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David Cameron has said "gaps" in national security must be plugged as he defended plans for more secret court hearings and more internet monitoring.

It follows concerns raised by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and others about civil liberties implications.

Mr Clegg said allowing ministers, not judges, to order court proceedings to be held in secret went too far.

The prime minister said there was still time "to deal with everybody's concerns" before firming up the plans.

Proposals have been put forward to allow sensitive intelligence information to be heard in secret by a judge and "special advocates" in civil cases brought against the government.

It follows a case last year in which the government eventually settled out of court with 16 former Guantanamo Bay detainees, after the Supreme Court ruled it could not go to "closed material procedures" (allow secret evidence) in civil cases.

Final say

The deal ended the men's damages claim for which they were demanding to see secret documents detailing their detention and ill-treatment by US forces in the wake of 9/11.

The proposed expansion of the use of secret hearings to civil courts and inquests is intended to ensure the government can contest such cases in the future, rather than settling them to avoid sensitive information being revealed in open court.


Wrangling between ministers on highly sensitive aspects of policy is now commonplace.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg - keen to flag up his party's claim to be guardians of civil liberties - saw his doubts about extending the use of so-called secret trials leaked overnight.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke argues, publicly and on air, that judges will have the last word on whether civil proceedings - where secret intelligence material needs to be protected - will take place behind locked doors.

And there will be no ministerial attempt to impose secrecy unless national security is at issue.

However, Mr Clarke suggests the judge's role will be comparable to judicial review: in other words reviewing the process, not second guessing the decision itself.

That is a potential stumbling block.

And will inquests be included? There's much wrangling still to come, and thanks to the goldfish bowl politics of coalition, we'll see it unfold in the run-up to important local elections in May.

BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera said there was no doubt that the changes were also being pushed by the intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6 - partly due to concerns in the US about shared intelligence being revealed.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke told the BBC: "The Americans have got nervous that we are going to start revealing some of their information and they have started cutting back, I am assured, on what they disclose."

But Mr Clegg has reportedly told the prime minister, ministers and security chiefs on the National Security Council that, without changes to the current proposals, his party would not back the legislation.

The Daily Mail reported that Mr Clegg believes it must be a judge, not ministers, who get the final say on when the powers to hold a secret hearing should be used, and argues that powers should not apply to coroners' courts.

It follows a separate row over plans to increase monitoring of phone calls, web and email use, criticised by some, including Conservative backbenchers, as "an unnecessary extension of the ability of the state to snoop on ordinary people".

In questions after a London speech on Wednesday, Mr Cameron said it was his job as prime minister to "make sure that we do everything that is necessary to keep our country safe" from serious crime and terrorist threats.

He said he believed there were "significant gaps in our defences", due to technological changes such as people making phone calls using the internet and because it sometimes was not possible to use intelligence material in court cases.

'Huge engagement'

Difficult decisions needed to be made and it was important that the "government makes progress on these vital agendas" - but it would be done in a "moderate, calm and reasonable manner".

He stressed there had already been "huge engagement" with the legal profession and civil liberties groups and added: "We are not at the end of that process yet... these are issues that we need to deal with. There is still time [before the Queen's Speech] to deal with everybody's concerns."

Director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti: "It's not secret justice, it's no justice"

But he added: "Prime ministers have a responsibility for national security. We should take every step that is necessary, to keep the country safe, we shouldn't put our civil liberties at risk by doing so, but where there are gaps that need to be plugged, we need to plug those gaps."

Mr Clarke says the secret court hearings would only be used in a very small number of very sensitive cases and told the BBC he was sure he could reassure Mr Clegg. He said it would not just be up to the justice secretary to rule on what should be held behind closed doors and a judge "should be able to check that decision by a process similar to that of judicial review... the judge must have the last say."

But he said he disagreed with Mr Clegg on the issue of coroners' courts, saying that without the ability to hold private hearings, relevant security service evidence would not be heard at all.

In their report into the proposals, published on Wednesday, MPs and peers on the Joint Committee on Human Rights said the government had not made the case for allowing more court hearings and inquests to be held in secret.

The committee said the "inherently unfair" plan was based on "spurious assertions" about the risk of material being made public and was a "radical departure from long-standing traditions of open justice".

'Just woken up to problem'

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights campaign group Liberty, told the BBC that it would change procedures for people bringing a civil claim against public bodies.

"It's not just the public and the press that would be cleared out of the courtroom, the claimant and their lawyers will be shut out as well. It would allow the authorities, whether it's the security agencies or the police or whoever, to have a private chat with the judge, and I'm afraid that's not justice at all."

She added that powers would not be limited to national security matters - the green paper says the procedure could be triggered by the secretary of state deciding "that certain relevant sensitive material would cause damage to the public interest if openly disclosed".

Labour leader Ed Miliband said while there was an "issue that has to be addressed" about intelligence from foreign governments, the current proposals went too far.

"I think we need to look at a solution that actually meets the problem that exists and doesn't go far far wider, which is the problem with the government's proposals."

He said Mr Clegg had only just "woken up to the problem", adding: "I hope the government changes course and thinks again."

Closed hearings involving special advocates are already used in a number of cases, such as deportations on national security grounds and challenges to counter-terrorism control orders. But when the government tried to use it in the damages claim brought by former Guantanamo Bay detainees, the Supreme Court said it had no power to do so in civil claims for damages.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1251.

    We live in a so called democracy,let have a vote on it,and see what happens then,the goverment works for Us and thats that,other wise you will get somrthing like an uprising in a so called democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1250.

    CAMERON just treats people of this country with contempt he is a nasty piece of work and its time we were rid of him and his poison minded MPs.
    All just out to make life miserable for the lower classes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1249.

    At the height, low?, of the IRA bombings around and across the country when there were big bangs in big cities every month did we have the government, our government, suspend civil liberty?

    - - - - No. - - We got on with life.

    So why is this government hell bent on control?

    What is their agenda?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1248.

    1230.GravityBeckons........................Thats just what the gov wants so they can roll out the tanks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1247.

    Theres no way he is gonna stop and 'listen'... like NHS reform they will do as they please, and we have to wait until 2015 to get rid of this government!!! Again forcing through policies that nobody voted for, when is this government gonna get out of our lives?!? and in this case literally, not until the tories push their 'agendas' thru, dont believe a word they say :(

  • rate this

    Comment number 1246.

    I thought I would never say this - Lost my vote. Sorry David but this crosses the line and you cannot even see why.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1245.

    #1214 AMUSE1 - I agree proposals are bad but u r wrong to just blame ordinary people for voting tory. Last Labour govt. tried hard to bring in detention without charge for 92 days, supported rendition & still stands accused of condoning torture. All govts do things not in their manifestos.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1244.


    I'm talking NO funding (only mp salaries, and anyone working for an MP being a civil servant). The propaganda push pre election should have the media in the local area (local TV, newspapers etc) required to dedicate a certain amount of space/time per candidate, and every candidate use that space as they see fit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1243.

    Sick of you now Mr Cameron, the only thing bringing fear and hatred to this country is you and your government. You are quite frankly dangerous and it should you who should be locked up without trial for the foreseeable future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1242.

    1221 Comfortably Numb "One wonders what the UK will look like in 50 years time."

    It won't exist. As an island it would probably end up as a convenient Alcatraz for the European regional division of the World Government.

    Or preferably we could rearrange and change things now while we have a chance. The children deserve better than the ultra devious plans of these current politicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1241.

    Many modern democracies have "behind closed doors" procedures, if only sometimes to protect children.

    However, these states usually have written constitutions, and so anything that happens therein must be constitutional. There's typically a panel of peer-judges to ensure this.

    We do not have this protection, and so this move needs careful analysis, scrutiny and regulation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1240.

    After reading through the comments I have decided to run a poll:

    Please rate this message up if you think the burning down of the Reichstag, 911 and 77 were all false flag events.

    This should be interesting!

    See you in a FEMA concentration camp.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1239.

    'The last time we encountered a DICTATOR like CAMERON it took a war and the lose of allot of lives. This guy needs to go'

    I'm not defending Cameron or the Tories but who, in your opinion, should replace him/them ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1238.

    Of course monitoring the press will be a number one priority for politicians as they will then know what the press's next move is before they make it and thus divert any inconvenient truths about shady dealings and murky meetings.

    The Press Should be Up in Arms about this because it will be the freedom of the press and ultimately the truth which will be the first victims of these proposed laws.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1237.

    Is Clarke holding up a Conch shell?

  • Comment number 1236.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1235.

    i wish we could plug david camerons gap !

  • rate this

    Comment number 1234.

    They say that these secerest court hearings or for speacial circumstances. Thats what they said about the terrorism act, and councils used this to check up on stupid things like if a cjild lives in the right catchment area for a school. Whos to say they will not do the same again.
    Also any terrorist or criminal with half a brain cell can avoid being snoped on using online emails and payg mobile

  • rate this

    Comment number 1233.

    This whole thing is fundamentally wrong. If you want ultimate security you will also gain ultimate lack of freedom and these measures are another step down that path. Sometimes you just have to accept there are things that you can't achieve and one of them is to be totally and utterly secure. Live with it and stop burning our freedoms for something you can never have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1232.

    "1221.Comfortably Numb

    One wonders what the UK will look like in 50 years time."

    I hate to think, but happily I won't be around to see it. Just compare the level of control, in society overall, that we tolerate now to what it was in the 70s. I fear for our grandchildren.


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