U.K. Needs More Secret-Court Safeguards, Lawmakers Say

U.K. lawmakers called on the government to introduce further safeguards into legislation allowing for trials to be held in secret, amid a debate weighing security concerns against civil liberties.

The Justice and Security Bill, being pushed through Parliament by Prime Minister David Cameron’s government, seeks to allow some trials to be held behind closed doors if the evidence aired in public may compromise national security. It’s designed to deal with terrorism cases.

Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights called on the government in a report published in London today to include a “last resort” condition, allowing the use of secret proceedings only when they’re clearly necessary and “a fair determination is not possible by any other means.”

“We remain sympathetic to the problems faced by the government in dealing with sensitive material, but the bill as drafted does not put in place sufficiently robust safeguards to oversee the exercise of what are very wide-ranging powers,” the committee chairman, opposition Labour Party lawmaker Hywel Francis, said in an e-mailed statement.

“We urge the government to think again and make sure that secret proceedings are used only in cases of pressing national security need and are the last possible resort,” he said.

In a letter published today, a group of 702 lawyers wrote to the Daily Mail newspaper expressing concerns over that proposals in the bill will “erode core principles of our civil justice system” by undermining the right to a fair trial and open justice.

The legislation has already been amended, amid objections from Cameron’s junior coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, and the opposition Labour Party.

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