Libya rendition claim should be heard in secret, Johnson says
Boris Johnson is backing a move by government lawyers for a secret hearing on the ground of national security into allegations that Jack Straw colluded in the rendition of a Libyan politician.
Lawyers for Abdul-Hakim Belhaj want to bring a High Court claim against Mr Straw, the former foreign secretary, and a former senior M16 officer, Sir Mark Allen. However, government ministers argue that there must be closed hearings into the allegations that both were unlawfully involved in the illegal rendition of Belhaj and his pregnant wife to Libya in 2004, where he says they were tortured.
In a statement released yesterday in support of the government’s position, Johnson said that the allegations “are of a particularly serious misconduct by the government”. The foreign secretary said: “I have concluded that the claims advanced cannot properly or fairly be determined on the basis only of the material that can be put in open [court].”
The only other option available to ministers is to seek a public interest immunity certificate, which would mean that sensitive evidence covered by the certificate would not be available to the court for deciding the issues. The impact of that, Johnson said, could not be dealt with in an open court statement as the argument depends on the content of the material. However, one consequence could be that the claims would not be tried at all.
Johnson noted that the claims are brought not only against the government but against two named individuals. “They both wish to have a real opportunity to defend themselves but they know that as a matter of law and fact they cannot do so unless there is a closed material procedure.”
Lawyers for Belhaj from the law firm Leigh Day told Mr Justice Popplewell, sitting in the High Court in London, that closed proceedings were unnecessary and were not in the interests of the fair and effective administration of justice. Given the strong public interest in the claim, other methods should be used to deal with sensitive material, they say.
The hearing continues.