All “right-thinking citizens of Middle England” should support secret courts, ministers insisted, as campaigners dismissed last-minute Government concessions as “nothing more than tinkering around the edges”.
Ken Clarke, the minister without portfolio, said the Government had “gone to extreme lengths to meet every practical legal objection” to the controversial measures proposed in the Justice and Security Bill.
But campaigners said changes, including an annual report and a five-year review, made before the Bill reaches report stage next week do little to address its “fundamental unfairness”.
In a strongly-worded attack on campaigners, Mr Clarke said: “Of course these amendments will not reassure the Bill’s hardline critics, who prefer silence to judicial decisions on allegations of kidnap and torture, and are prepared to accept that millions of pounds could go without challenge to individuals who could be terrorists.
“These final amendments should now resolve all right thinking citizens of Middle England that this is a sensible, worthwhile Bill which they would give their support to.”
He admitted the plans to hold more hearings in national security cases behind closed doors in so-called closed material procedures were not ideal, but said they offered “the only practical means of delivering justice where otherwise there would be none”.
But Tory MP Dominic Raab, a fierce critic of the proposals, said: “This is a grubby piece of legislation that has – bit by bit – been made marginally less offensive, but still erodes the basic principles of British justice.”
The legal charity Reprieve added that the changes were “nothing more than tinkering round the edges”.
“These amendments make minor modifications to the road towards secret courts, but they do nothing to address the fundamental unfairness of the provisions at the heart of this Bill,” a spokesman said.
“It is simple common sense that a system of justice which puts the Government above the law is one that should be rejected – MPs must vote against these plans when they return to the Commons.”
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, added: “A facelift won’t save this ugly Bill – and certainly not the botched attempt of last-minute amendments.
“Our Government seems prepared to make any desperate misleading statement to pass a law that would prevent bereaved families of neglected soldiers and victims of police abuse gaining access to open justice forever more.”
The Government also made a number of amendments last month, including allowing a judge rather than a minister to decide if a case should be held in private.