'Secret Justice' Bid Suffers Blow From Clegg

Moves to create "secret justice" in Britain have suffered a blow after Nick Clegg warned the Prime Minister he could not support the current plans.

The intervention by Mr Clegg came as an influential group of MPs and peers savaged proposals to hold more inquests and court cases behind closed doors.

The plans are aimed at ensuring that sensitive evidence from the security services is not made public in open courts.

Mr Clegg's objection was set out in a letter to the National Security Council - chaired by David Cameron - in which he warned that major changes were needed to the plans before they could get backing from Liberal Democrat colleagues.

But Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has told Sky News he shares many of Mr Clegg's views of civil liberties, the key concerns have been addressed and he would be surprised if they cannot reach an agreement.

The Deputy Prime Minister said security services' concerns cannot be allowed to "ride roughshod" over open justice.

He said the powers to take evidence in secret should not apply to inquests, and that judges, rather than ministers, should decide when the measures are used in the small number of civil cases expected to be affected, the Daily Mail reported.

Members of the cross-party Joint Committee on Human Rights have described the Justice Secretary's proposals as "inherently unfair".

Their highly critical report said the controversial and wide-ranging proposals were based on "vague predictions" and "spurious assertions" about catastrophic consequences.

In reality, the plans are a "radical departure from long-standing traditions of open justice" which should only ever be used when publicly disclosing material would carry "a real risk of harm to national security", the committee said.

The report strongly criticised Mr Clarke's green paper, saying his view that the plans were only intended to be used in a small number of cases "is clearly a change of position as there is no doubt that the proposals in the green paper are very broad in scope".

Mr Clarke responded by saying the proposals were "a common sense solution to a genuine problem in a very small number of cases" and there was a "compelling case" for changing rules which stop judges from considering any sensitive evidence at all, even where the case hinges on it, in compensation hearings or other civil cases.

He said: "(The proposed changes) will ensure that the Government is properly held to account when individuals challenge its actions in civil cases only, without revealing information which would compromise public safety.

"This Government will do everything possible to uphold the principle of open justice.

"But British intelligence agents obviously cannot give evidence in open court about their sources, their techniques and their secret knowledge."

He told Sky News the points Mr Clegg raises have been addressed in the Government's consultation paper.

Mr Clarke added he would be "surprised if I can't reach agreement with Nick Clegg" because the pair share similar views of civil liberties.