Thursday, February 19, 2015

National wants secret evidence in our courts

Two weeks ago I highlighted some disturbing advice on the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill, which suggested that the SIS wanted to be able to use secret evidence in our courtrooms. And yesterday, lo and behold, the Minister of Justice, just nominated for the Intelligence and Security Committee, directed the Law Commission to look into exactly that:

The Law Commission is reviewing the laws that determine how security sensitive information should be dealt with in court proceedings. The review will look at how to protect information that may prejudice New Zealand’s security.

It will also consider whether the current rules governing disclosure of such information in court, and the use of that information by the Crown or another party in the proceedings, need to be reformed.


Sir Grant Hammond, the President of the Law Commission, said: “It is timely for New Zealand to look at the types of approaches that have been taken in allied jurisdictions which allow security sensitive information to be used in court under a carefully controlled process that involves disclosing it only to special security-cleared lawyers acting on behalf of a party.”

Or, in English, "it is time for New Zealand to look at unfair trials which allow defendants to be convicted on secret evidence which they can never see or effectively contest, and the government to escape civil liability on the same basis". The UK (of course) has passed such a law (partly in an effort to get themselves off the hook for torture cases), and it has already led to one attempt to hold a trial completely in secret. That was fortunately defeated, but the "evidence" was still secret. Naturally, it resulted in a conviction. Which can never be trusted because the evidence was never properly tested.

And that's what the SIS's desire to play their silly spy games in the courts will get us: a justice system which is patently unfair and whose outcomes can never be trusted. We've been here before with Ahmed Zaoui, and my views haven't changed. Open justice is essential to maintaining public confidence in the integrity of the justice system. Secret "justice" isn't.