Justice and Security Bill: Lords consideration of amendments

27 March 2013

The Justice and Security Bill bounced back to the House of Lords yesterday (Tuesday 26 March) for consideration of Commons' amendments in 'ping pong'. There were two divisions (votes) in the chamber

The first division looked to add an amendment to Commons Amendment 6 making the use of closed materials procedures – secret courts – a last resort. Opposition justice spokesperson, Lord Beecham (Labour), suggested the amendment saying, ‘the consequences of closed material procedures are that claimants are both blindfolded and effectively gagged, even in cases of habeas corpus.’

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood (Crossbench) supported the amendment. He said: ‘This legislation involves so radical a departure from the cardinal principle of open justice in civil proceedings, so sensitive an aspect of the court's processes, that everything that can possibly help minimise the number of occasions when the power is used should be recognised and should appear in the legislation itself.’

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Labour), also voiced concern that the legislation as it stands ‘so radically departs from one of the most fundamental of our common law principles that it is essential that its use is kept to a minimum.’

Lord Wallace of Tankerness (Liberal Democrat), responded on behalf of the government and suggested that the number of cases involving closed material procedures would be minimal. He stated: ‘We all aim at the same thing: at the end of the day, this should take place in a small number of cases.’

He continued: ‘The requirement on the court to consider at the end of all the disclosure whether closed material proceedings should still continue constitute a very powerful weapon in the hands of the court and at judges' discretion that will ensure that those procedures will be used only in truly exceptional cases.’

Lord Beecham accepted the minister’s response but said that he would put Amendment 6A to a vote: ‘There can be no better or more necessary occasion to do so than when issues profoundly affecting our system of justice or the rights of citizens are at stake.’

The House voted 158 for and 174 against.

The second division took place over an amendment to Commons Amendment 19. The amendment was suggested by Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (Liberal Deomcrat) and concerned the ‘review and renewal’ of the operation of closed material procedures.

He outlined his concerns, ‘not only on the degree to which the Bill sacrifices common-law principles of fairness and open justice but also on the relationship between the Secretary of State and the courts.’ He went on to suggest that the first review should take place earlier than currently proposed:

‘The first review would need to be after four years rather than five to ensure that a review and a vote on renewal, if renewal were sought by the Secretary of State, could take place in the next Parliament.’

Lord Butler of Brockwell (Crossbench) argued against this change, suggesting it could impact upon the willingness of international partners to cooperate with our intelligence services and share information. He said if it was ‘a matter of uncertainty whether those confidences would be protected in four or five years’ time’, such cooperation may be threatened.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness again responded and confirmed the government’s position on the review, saying, ‘no one is suggesting that this Parliament is binding its successors by this.’

He insisted that the system would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny: ‘If a review proved that closed material proceedings were not working, manifest injustice was following on from them and they were not actually doing what they were set up to do, of course it would be possible for a future Parliament, through primary legislation, to repeal the legislation if that system is not working.’

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames put Amendment 19B to a vote. The House voted 65 for and 141 against.

The Justice and Security Bill has now been agreed by both Houses and is awaiting royal assent. 

The bill's progress so far

About the Justice and Security Bill

The first reading of the Justice and Security Bill took place in the House of Lords on 28 May 2012. The bill proposes:

Strengthened oversight by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) of the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service, the Government Communications Headquarters and other activities relating to intelligence or security matters.

To expand the statutory remit of the ISC and allow Parliament to have a more substantial role in ISC appointments.

For closed material procedure in relation to certain civil proceedings in the High Court, the Court of Session or the Court of Appeal. Also to extend closed material procedure for cases containing sensitive information and connected purposes.

Next and final stage: Royal assent

Once a bill has completed all its parliamentary stages in both Houses, it's ready to receive royal assent and become an act of Parliament (law). Royal assent is the Queen's formal agreement to make the bill into an act.

There is no set time period between the consideration of amendments and royal assent.

When royal assent has been given, an announcement is made in both Houses by the Lord Speaker in the Lords and the Speaker in the Commons.

At prorogation (the formal end to a parliamentary session), Black Rod interrupts the proceedings of the Commons and summons MPs to the Lords chamber to hear the Lords commissioners announce royal assent for each bill.

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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