The UK may jeopardise its intelligence-sharing with the United States if it fails to implement laws that would allow some security cases to be heard in closed courts, according to the independent reviewer of intelligence legislation, David Anderson QC.
Mr Anderson was addressing the Joint Human Rights Committee yesterday, which is taking evidence on proposals included in the Justice and Security Bill.
The bill is seeking to amend the law to allow cases that include highly sensitive intelligence information to be heard in closed courts. Litigants in such cases would need to be represented by security-vetted advocates in new 'closed material proceedings'.
Critics of the bill include Amnesty International, which believes that secret courts could limit the ability of Northern Irish citizens to bring the security services to account and could further undermine confidence in the rule of law.
"There are a range of civil proceedings in Northern Ireland dealing with the legacy of the conflict, which might well be affected by the introduction of 'secret evidence'," said Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International Northern Ireland.
The Government has hit back though, stating that the type of evidence that will be covered by the new laws would not currently be heard in open court. As a result the Government argues that the new law will actually allow more information to be heard in court, by protecting evidence that is sensitive to national security.
The new bill's path to law has also been criticised for being too heavily influenced by the American Government, something which Mr Anderson acknowledged in his evidence to the committee yesterday.
"I'm quite sure that they [the Americans] had something to do with it. Quite how much I don't know," he said, adding: "I have no doubt there were some hard questions asked about how many people there would be in the court, how secure the courts were, how well security-vetted the judges were."
The influence from the US comes after the case of Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born UK-based asylum seeker who was arrested and tortured by US authorities at various sites around the world, before being detained without trial in Guatanamo Bay, Cuba.
Mr Mohamed later won a court case to have intelligence documents relating to his detention and torture published. The documents proved his assertion that the US authorities had tortured him and that the UK security services had been complicit in his treatment.
The decision by the Court of Appeal to order the publication of this previously classified information riled the US and prompted commentators to observe that future information-sharing between the US and UK security services would undoubtedly be jeopardised in future unless the UK Government could guarantee that such disclosures would not be made public again.
Mr Anderson was in no doubt yesterday that any attempt to amend or water down the bill would affect intelligence-sharing in future.
"It is clear to me that if our courts were to get into the habit of disclosing information of this kind contrary to the wishes of the US Government, the US Government would wish to reassess the intelligence relationship," he said.
In a statement the Cabinet Office added that the current situation was impacting on the courts' ability to hear cases at the present time.
"Our current inability to properly protect sensitive material is seriously undermining the confidence of our international partners, which is vital to our national security," the statement read.
Future of security relationship with US threatened by courts (The Telegraph)