On Tuesday of this week, the Court of Appeal handed down three important judgments on the question of how, in the context of civil litigation, courts should approach cases where the State is seeking to advance part of its case through a closed material procedure. The closed material procedure effectively operates to allow the State to put evidence and arguments before the court in closed session, which is to say in the absence of the other parties and their representatives. The excluded parties and their representatives will not be given access to any closed evidence or arguments. The procedure typically entails arrangements whereby the excluded parties will be represented in the closed session by a special advocate. All three appeals were decided by the same panel of judges, namely: Lord Neuberger MR, Maurice Kay LJ, Sullivan LJ. The following is a summary of the judgments:
HOME OFFICE v TARIQ  EWCA Civ 462 – T had been employed by the Home office as an immigration officer. T’s brother and cousin had been arrested in relation to alleged terrorist offences. The cousin was convicted and the brother released without charge. T was suspended from duty due to national security concerns. T, who was a Muslim of Asian/Pakistani origin, went on to bring claims in the employment tribunal of race and religious discrimination. The tribunal held that it had statutory powers under the Employment Tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2004 to hear certain evidence relating to the claims in closed session, albeit that T would be represented in that session by a special advocate. The Employment Appeal Tribunal held that the decision to hear evidence in closed session was not unlawful but that T and his representatives should be informed of the gist of the closed material which was to be heard in the closed session. The Secretary of State appealed the decision that T should be told the gist of the closed material. T cross-appealed on the grounds that the convening of a closed session was itself unlawful under the European Directives from which his right to claim discrimination was derived and, further, under Art. 6 ECHR. The Court of Appeal, upholding the EAT’s judgment, held that: (a) the closed materials procedure, which entailed the use of a special advocate to represent T’s interests, did not contravene either the Directives or Art. 6 of the Convention; and (b) following Secretary of State for the Home Department v AF (No.3)  UKHL 28,  3 WLR 74, T was entitled to know the gist of the closed material so that he could fairly and effectively pursue his claims.
BANK MELLAT v HM TREASURY  EWCA Civ 483 – B was a bank which had been made subject to a direction under the Financial Restrictions (Iran) Order 2009. The order had been made pursuant to the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. The Direction prohibited all persons operating in the financial sector from entering or participating in any transaction or business relationship with B. The basis of the Direction was that M ‘continued to engage in a pattern of conduct which supported and facilitated Iran’s proliferation-sensitive activities, that nuclear-related companies received funds from B, and that a company with alleged connections with other nuclear-related companies conducted business using B’. B sought to challenge the Direction under CPR 79. CPR 79 contains provisions allowing for a closed materials procedure to be adopted. T wished to treat certain evidence as closed evidence under the closed material procedure. B challenged T’s attempt to withhold the closed evidence from it. The High Court held that T was obliged under Art 6 of the Convention to afford B sufficient disclosure to enable it to give effective instructions about the essential allegations made against it. HELD: The Court of Appeal held that, where disclosure of evidence might be contrary to the public interest, Art 6 permitted a balancing exercise to be undertaken. However, in line with Tariq v Home Office, B should be given the gist of the information being withheld so that he could give effective instructions in relation to the case being put against him. The information provided to B had to be sufficient to enable B to give sufficient instructions not merely to deny, but actually to refute the essential allegations relied on by T.
BISHER AL RAWI & 5 ORS v SECURITY SERVICE & Ors  EWCA Civ 482 – The appellants (X) appealed against a decision of the High Court that, as a matter of principle, it was open to the court to order a closed material procedure in the context of a civil claim for damages. X were former Guantanamo detainees. They had made various claims against the respondents (Y) including claims for damages for false imprisonment, trespass to the person, torture and negligence. Y invited the court to apply a closed material procedure which would enable them to rely on pleadings and evidence which would not be disclosed to X or their representatives, albeit that it would be disclosed to a special advocate representing X’s interests. Y argued that this approach was necessary in the public interest. X’s position was that it was not open to Y to use a closed material procedure and that its only option was to rely on the public interest immunity (PII) procedure. Under that procedure, any evidence which was subject to PII would be excluded altogether from the litigation process, which meant that neither party could rely upon it. Y argued that the closed material approach was preferable because the court would be more likely to arrive at a fair result if it could see the relevant material. HELD: The Court of Appeal, overturning the High Court’s judgment, held that it was not open to the court to order a closed material procedure in relation to the trial of an ordinary civil claim. The principle that a litigant should be able to see and hear all the evidence seen and heard by the court determining his case was so fundamental that, in the absence of parliamentary authority, no judge should override it in relation to an ordinary civil claim. The Court commented obiter that different considerations might apply where the proceedings did not only concern the interests of the parties but also had a significant effect on a vulnerable third party or the wider public interest. However, those considerations did not apply in the instant proceedings where the judge would be called upon to sit purely as an arbiter between the parties and no “triangulation of interests” would be involved.
What these judgments show collectively is just how difficult it is to strike a fair balance between the important public interest in protecting the basic rights of individuals to know what case is being put against them and the need to avoid disclosures which would themselves damage the public interest, for example, by jeopardizing national security. They also confirm that a distinction is to be drawn between those cases where there is a specific statutory or Parliamentary authority for a closed material procedure to be adopted (Tariq and Bank Mellat) and those cases where no such authority exists (Al Rawi). In respect of the latter cases, the Court of Appeal has effectively held that: (a) in general, the only procedural course available to the State is to make an application for evidence to be excluded under the PII procedure; although (b) there may be cases where exceptionally third party interests or the public interest warrant a different approach being adopted.