By Lawrence McNamara
With the Justice and Security Bill due soon, some interesting issues are arising around the use of closed material proceedings in Employment Tribunals. Under Rule 54 of the regulations that govern procedure, closed proceedings and the exclusion of a party and their legal representative can be used in Crown employment matters if it is ‘expedient in the interests of national security’.
In April, it was reported in the Telegraph that there is a current action against GCHQ. On 12 May, the Telegraph reported on an action against the Metropolitan Police related to the suspicion of a police officer having attended terrorist training camp, the suspension of the officer’s counter-terrorism security clearance, and the legal proceedings in the Employment Tribunal.
In that matter – Rahman v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis & the Secretary of State for the Home Department (UKEATPA/0076/09/RN & UKEAT/0125/10/RN) – Mitting J has said that there is ‘a legitimate public interest in those parts of the proceedings from which the Appellant and his legal representatives are not excluded’ and ‘cogent reasons’ would be needed to exclude the public.
(It might be said that even if the public can be excluded whenever the Appellant has no access, there is nonetheless still a legitimate public interest in all aspects of these proceedings.) However, it seems clear from the judgment that closed proceedings will play a very substantial role in this case.
The Employment Tribunal matters are interesting not only of themselves but also because the Justice and Security Green Paper cites it as a jurisdiction where closed material proceedings are well established, and thus it forms part of the normalising landscape within which general closed material proceedings are said by the government to be acceptable.
However, as with all closed material proceedings in existing areas, including SIAC, there seems no record of how often they are used. The MP for Tooting, Sadiq Khan, has asked the Justice Secretary to answer on 14 May the question: ‘on how many occasions a closed material procedure has been used in an employment tribunal in each of the last 10 years’. It is an important question.
Moreover, any proposals in the Justice and Security Bill should ensure that such records are kept and reported regularly, and that all orders for closure are reviewed periodically so that matters of public interest do not remain secret for any longer than absolutely necessary.
Lawrence McNamara runs the ESRC-funded Law, Terrorism and the Right to Know project at the University of Reading.