Schedule 2 — Consequential provision

Part of Business without Debate — Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:53 pm on 7th March 2013.

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Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Commission, Chair, Public Accounts Commission 4:53 pm, 7th March 2013

I want to have a conversation with my good friend, my hon. Friend Dr Lewis. We all know that the Bill is about civil cases and not criminal cases, but as he well knows, because he has been a litigant, civil cases are very important and can affect a person’s whole life. They should therefore be treated with great seriousness.

We should not approach debates where human rights are involved by saying that the litigants belong to a class of people whom we find reprehensible. It may be that they are reprehensible, but that argument is often used about minorities. It is used at the moment about Islamists and it would have been used about the IRA in the 20th century, the civilian German nationals who were interned in 1940, the Fenians in the 19th century, the French earlier than that, the Jesuits in the 17th century, the Chartists and John Wilkes. So let us not get into the mindset of, “These are unpleasant people.” They also have a right to justice.

We should sometimes imagine how we would feel if we were the litigant. Let us suppose that we felt that something terrible had happened and our rights had been infringed in some way. How would we like a procedure whereby we went to court and halfway through the defence suddenly said, “This is all very secret and we cannot share it with you” and the judge said, “Okay, I’ll adjourn that and listen to the evidence on your behalf Member for New Forest East. You can trust me. I am appointed by the state. Or perhaps we can get some barrister appointed by the state and he can hear it”?

Let us then suppose that a few hours or days later the judge says, “You haven’t heard this evidence against you, but I think your case doesn’t stand up.” What happens when he sums up at the end of the case, as of course in public he cannot adduce all this secret evidence? How would hon. Members feel if they were the litigant? Would they feel that they had received justice? What does it say for our worldwide reputation if serious allegations about torture and so on are made and a large part of the case—and the reason why the litigant did not win his case—is determined on the basis of secret evidence?

We are then told that we are putting our security services at risk. That is nonsense, because the security services are like any other defendant, in that they can choose what evidence to submit to defend themselves. Is it really beyond the wit of man to defend these cases satisfactorily, for the most part? A question of the identity of agents may arise, but nobody is suggesting that the agent has to be brought before the court of law, or to have himself or his practices identified. Surely there are ways in which the case can be defended a lot of the time. I leave that point with my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East. I know he takes the rights of litigants and human rights seriously, and we are taking a serious step today—