What Are ‘Secret Trials’ They And Do They Violate Human Rights?


From RightsInfo: What Are ‘Secret Trials’ They And Do They Violate Human Rights?

Some UK court hearings are happening behind closed doors. Is this a problem for human rights?

The UK’s justice system rests on several important principles, including the principle of ‘open justice’. Openness means that the public generally has an interest in knowing about matters of significance, such as the arguments in and results of trials. This principle dates back to Magna Carta. It ensures fairness and confidence in the whole justice system. Justice is not only done, but seen to be done.

There is another principle of justice that an accused person has the right to know the case against them, so that they can adequately prepare a defence. This is sometimes known as the ‘equality of arms’ principle – meaning that both the person pursuing a claim and the person defending should have equal access to the evidence and arguments in the case.
Not a technical legal term, ‘secret trials’ describe legal proceedings in which either (i) certain elements cannot be reported by the press or (ii) some evidence is kept private from one party (usually the defence).
This what happens when data subjects are refused access to the records
used to build cases against them.

The right to a fair trial is protected by Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing, but this can be limited in the interests of national security. If the Government wants to introduce secrecy, the courts must decide whether that is possible without breaching the right to a fair trial.

The problem with keeping evidence secret is that an accused person is denied the opportunity to respond to the evidence against them. If the identity of suspects or hearings themselves are secret, the opportunity to scrutinise the trial is also lost. But the justice system relies on the confidence of the public. Without transparency, it is difficult to see how this confidence will be maintained.