Published Monday, 15 October 2012
The report was published on Monday. (© UTV)
The UK government's plans for a substantial extension of the use of secret evidence in the justice system is set to be debated in the House of Lords in the coming weeks.
However, the move has been severely criticised by the Northern Ireland branch of the global charity in a new report entitled 'Left in the dark - the use of secret evidence in the United Kingdom' which was published on Monday.
According to Amnesty, the proposals would allow the government to rely on secret evidence in civil cases. These include cases of alleged government responsibility for human rights violations such as torture.
Closed Material Procedures would be used to prevent individuals and their lawyers from seeing documents even when they show the involvement of UK officials in wrongdoing.
The material could be withheld if such disclosures are deemed to harm "national security" - regardless of a possible an overwhelming public interest in disclosure.
Patrick Corrigan, the charity's NI Programme Director, said: "This law would give the government powers to hide from open scrutiny in a court of law actions by its agents in the most controversial of cases; including where the security forces themselves may be implicated in human rights violations.
"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'.
"These include judicial reviews of investigations into conflict-related deaths by the PSNI, the Historical Enquiries Team and the Police Ombudsman, as well as civil actions for damages relating to ill-treatment and unlawful killings."
Mr Corrigan continued: "If introduced, these 'secret evidence' measures could contribute towards a dangerous unravelling of public confidence in the justice system in Northern Ireland, confidence which has already been shaken over the last year by revelations regarding the independence of the Police Ombudsman and recruitment by the PSNI."
Amnesty's report contains critical testimony from some 25 barristers and solicitors who have acted in such cases.
The publication also includes reaction from three "special advocates", who are allowed to see secret evidence but not allowed to discuss it with the person affected.
One of the lawyers, Richard Hermer QC, said: "The idea that you could go to court having had the most terrible things happen to you to sue for justice and be excluded from the proceedings and at the end just be told you've lost without being given the reasons for that decision, runs contrary to all notions of fairness, the rule of law and open justice."