I certainly would not commit myself to repealing part 2, because it includes the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction, which we support.
Finally, let me deal with the new heresies that have been slipped into the Bill during its passage in the House of Commons. I have time only to raise the issues rather than exploring them; further comment must be a matter for the other place.
The first of those issues, which was raised by us in Committee but not dealt with satisfactorily by the Minister, relates to clause 6(4)(a), which currently sets as a condition precedent to the court’s ordering a CMP that
“a party to the proceedings…would be required to disclose sensitive material in the course of proceedings to another person (whether or not another party to the proceedings)”.
We fear that the provision will be used in part to prevent the use of confidentiality rings, allowing the citizen's own lawyer to be excluded from receiving information. It was that eventuality that we sought to prevent through our amendment 28, which was not reached on Monday but which would have added the words
“and such disclosure would be damaging to the interests of national security”.
Our second significant concern relates to Government amendment 46, which was tabled only last week and was introduced to the Bill on Monday. There has been no opportunity to debate the amendment, which adds to clause 6(7) the phrase
“or on such material that the applicant would be required to disclose'”.
That appears to allow an application for a CMP to be made on the basis of irrelevant material which is not the sensitive material that the party applying—usually the Secretary of State—fears having to disclose. It may therefore allow the court to take into consideration material that is merely embarrassing or damaging to international relations. The Government have excluded such material from consideration in the CMP, but it seems it may now be adduced to trigger the process.
If we are right about that, there are other ramifications. The gisting requirements—which, as the special advocates have pointed out in their latest submission, are already very weak in the Bill—ask the court to consider, not to require, a gist, and thus allow a case to be decided entirely on the basis of evidence that one party has had no right to challenge. In addition, a gist need only be made of material that is disclosable. That presents the possibility of a CMP being granted on the basis of non-disclosable material, and the court not even being asked to consider whether it is necessary to gist that material to the open lawyer or client.
This is not so much a bad Bill as a Bill with a bad heart. We will not be voting against Third Reading, because there is much in part 1 that we support, but we believe that even at this stage the clauses on CMPs can be improved—indeed, must be improved. We look to the other place once again to provide the necessary heart massage. We hope that the Justice and Security Act will secure an effective way of trying difficult cases with serious national security implications without jeopardising hard-won and much-prized principles of fair and open justice. We have never excluded the CMP option, but we believe that it is such an affront to the basic, open and fair principles of English common law that it must be confined to the tiny minority of cases in which proper judicial discretion and other tried and tested methods have been exhausted.