Police have court reform concerns

NORTHAMPTONSHIRE Police chiefs have expressed concern over Government plans to increase the use of secret court procedures.

The county force is among about 70 to respond to a justice and security green paper from the Cabinet Office earlier this week in relation to some cases in civil courts.

The Government wants to increase the use of closed material procedures (CMPs) in civil courts, in an attempt to prevent sensitive claims for damages being aired in open hearings.

The proposals would mean ministers could order a hearing to be conducted behind closed doors, and could also deny claimants access to government evidence or witnesses.

The judgement of the court could also be wholly or partially withheld.

The reform has been backed by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, chairman of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee.

Northamptonshire Police’s submission states: “It is proposed that CMPs are available whenever the secretary of state makes the decision that the disclosure of sensitive material will be damaging to the public.

“This is widely drafted and could result in its misuse.

“This could be used to encompass material concerning crime prevention tactics, police informants and intelligence led operations.

“The impact of the overuse of CMPs would be to damage the UK reputation of a free and fair democracy.”

The force also questions whether they are consistent with article six of the European convention on human rights, the right to a fair trial.

Chief Constable Adrian Lee is spokesman on ethics for the Association of Chief Police Officers.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has also rejected the plan.

A spokesman said: “CMPs are inherently unfair to the excluded party.

“The right to know the evidence given by the other side is such a fundamental principle of natural justice, it can never be fairer to adopt a closed material procedure in order to determine a claim, even if the alternative is the claim will be struck out.”