Judges grant secret court hearings

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said five applications had been made by the Government for evidence to be heard in secret courts over the past year

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said five applications had been made by the Government for evidence to be heard in secret courts over the past year

First published in National News © by

Secret court hearings were granted by judges to the Government in at least three of its five attempts to secure them during the first year of controversial new laws being in place.

Ministers' applications for closed material proceedings (CMP) - allowing evidence to be heard in private - were accepted in cases involving an IRA mole suing MI5, terror suspects alleging British complicity in their torture in Somaliland, and Iranian shipping officials who were listed as having their assets frozen due to suspected involvement in nuclear proliferation activity.

Under the Justice and Security Act 2013, powers were granted for judges to grant secret hearings for evidence that may jeopardise national security if heard in public.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced that between June 25 2013, when the powers came into force, and June 24 this year, ministers made five applications for CMP.

In the same period, a decision whether to grant one of the applications was made in secret, while another application - involving British terror suspects Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed and a man known only as CF - was granted publicly.

Since June 24, judges have granted permission for secret hearings in two of the other cases.

On July 8, Home Secretary Theresa May won a top judge's permission to use secret court hearings to defend a damages claim brought by IRA mole Martin McGartland.

Mr McGartland is suing MI5 for breach of contract and negligence in his aftercare following a shooting by the IRA which left him unable to work.

A former agent of the Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch, Mr McGartland claims the security services failed to provide care for post-traumatic stress disorder and access to disability benefits.

Mr Justice Mitting said "sensitive material" relating to protection and the training of security service "handlers" arose in the case and that secret hearings could be used in the interests of national security.

On July 11, court documents show the Government was granted secret hearings in a case involving members of the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, who are seeking damages from the Foreign Office for loss of earnings after being included on a frozen assets list for their alleged involvement in "proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities and the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems".

On 7 November last year, the Government was granted secret hearings in a damages claim brought by terror suspects Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed and a man known only as CF, alleging claiming Britain was complicit in their detention and torture by Somaliland authorities in 2011.

Mohamed, 27, was last seen fleeing a mosque in west London in November disguised as a woman in a burka and is understood to have received training and fought overseas for al-Shabaab, the Somalia-based cell of the militant Islamist group al Qaida, along with CF.

In May, the pair won Court of Appeal cases against Home Secretary Theresa May because she imposed anti-terror control order restrictions on them on the basis of secret evidence.

Judges unanimously ruled the men should have been told at least the "gist" of the allegations against them and said their cases must be reconsidered.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers made the other application, reportedly to prevent prominent dissident republican Terence McCafferty from discovering the grounds on which he was returned to prison.

According to the Guardian, the Real IRA member was sentenced to 12 years in jail in 2005 for leaving a car bomb outside a vehicle licensing office in Belfast and released on licence in 2008, before being re-arrested a few weeks later.

McCafferty is challenging his re-arrest and has applied for his freedom using a writ of habeas corpus.

A Government spokesman said the figures showed the new powers had been used "sparingly".

He said: "The statistics show the closed material procedure has been used sparingly in a handful of cases in the past year.

"The Government believes that closed material procedures are the right way to enable civil cases involving national security material which the courts recognise is too sensitive to disclose.

"Previously these cases had been unable to proceed - meaning no final judgment from a court, none of the questions posed by the claimant answered, and the Government forced to spend taxpayers' money to settle claims without being able to put across their case."

Mr Grayling released the figures in a written ministerial statement.

The Northern Ireland Office confirmed that the McCafferty application has not yet been granted.

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