Amendments to the Justice and Security Act 2013 following Dr Lawrence McNamara's recommendations helped to ensure a better balance between national security and the principles of fair and open justice.

Impacts

  • Dr McNamara provided written and oral evidence to the 2012 Joint Committee on Human Rights and a response to the Cabinet Office consultation on the Justice and Security Green Paper which led to some successful amendments in the Justice and Security Act 2013 – for instance, government must now report annually to parliament on the use of closed proceedings. Dr McNamara’s contribution was expressly acknowledged in parliamentary debates.
  • His advice regarding the 'chilling effect' of prosecutions (whereby fear of prosecution encourages media self-censorship) contributed to amendments to the Crown Prosecution Service guidelines for prosecution of cases affecting the media.
  • In 2013 one of Dr McNamara’s proposed amendments to the Justice and Security Act was argued by a media organisation during a High Court case.

"Dr McNamara's work resulted in evidence and analysis of enormous value being made available for those who campaigned against the 2013 Justice and Security Act, those who were reporting on its passage through Parliament, and those who must now practice law within its confines." (Ian Cobain, Senior Investigative Reporter, The Guardian)

About the research

Research on the way information relating to terrorism is controlled and managed by the state and accessed by the media placed Dr Lawrence McNamara in the ideal position to inform the debates on a highly significant and contentious piece of security legislation.

The Justice and Security Bill, debated in the House of Lords and the House of Commons in 2012 and 2013, aimed to allow British courts to hear secret evidence on terrorism suspects, but excluded the public or the media. Dr McNamara, head of the Law, Terrorism and the Right to Know research project believed that the Bill had profound implications for British justice.

"It is important that the principle of open justice, whereby the public sees justice being administered and the courts are open and subject to public scrutiny, is upheld," Dr McNamara points out. "Of course everyone accepts that some information must be kept secret in the interests of national security. But, equally, information that could be made public should be made public. However, my research clearly indicates that at present the balance weighs far more heavily towards caution, with the government restricting information. There is also much to suggest that the media could often be more active in pursuing or publishing information."

Dr McNamara made several recommendations on the Bill including that government must report annually to parliament on the use of closed material proceedings (where the public, media and claimants are excluded so the government can show secret evidence). His evidence concerning the impact on media freedom and democratic accountability was described as ‘the missing issue’ in the Green Paper by Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR).

The resulting amendment to the Bill on applications for and use of closed material proceedings, now a legislative requirement, has provided a mechanism for long-term public knowledge about matters that affect national security and the effective scrutiny of government by parliament.