Court changes could ‘harm democracy’

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SENIOR officers at Northamptonshire Police have questioned whether the proposed introduction of secret court hearings will harm the UK’s reputation as a “free and fair democracy”.

The force is one of nearly 70 forces and organisations to respond to a controversial justice and security green paper which has been posted online by the Cabinet Office.

The Government’s proposed expansion of “closed material procedures” (CMPs) into civil courts is an attempt to prevent sensitive claims for damages being aired in open hearings.

Under the proposals, not only would ministers be able to order a hearing to be conducted in secret, but the proceedings would also deny claimants access to Government evidence or witnesses.

Supporters argue that co-operation with foreign intelligence agencies such as the CIA will be endangered if secrets are exposed in court.

However, senior officers at Northamptonshire Police have said excessive use of CMPs could also damage the reputation of the UK.

Chief Constable Adrian Lee said: “It is proposed that CMPs are available whenever the secretary of state makes the decision that the disclosure of sensitive material will be damaging to the public.

“This is very widely drafted and could result in its misuse. This could be used to encompass material concerning crime prevention tactics, police informants and intelligence -led operations.”