Bank Mellat: Closed Material Procedures and FOIA – Panopticon

“Last week, the Supreme Court gave judgment in Bank Mellat v Her Majesty’s Treasury (no.1) [2013] UKSC 38. The Bank Mellat case involved financial restrictions imposed by HMT on the Bank under the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 (“the 2008 Act”), on the basis that it enabled funding for Iran’s nuclear weapons programme. The High Court and Court of Appeal had both adopted a closed material procedure (“CMP”) – i.e. a procedure in which the court sits in private, and hears evidence and/or submissions without one party either being present or seeing the material – in order to consider sensitive material adduced by HMT which could not be disclosed to the Bank. They had specific statutory authority to do so under the 2008 Act. The Supreme Court did not have such authority. The relevant questions were whether it was possible for the Supreme Court to adopt a CMP on appeal, in the absence of specific statutory provision; and if so, whether it was appropriate to do so in that particular case. The Supreme Court was faced with the difficulty of reconciling two strong but opposing interests. On the one hand, it was important that the Court should be able to see and consider any relevant material before the High Court and Court of Appeal. On the other, the Supreme Court itself in Al Rawi v Security Service [2012] 1 AC 531 had uncompromisingly set its face against any derogation from the open justice principle. The Supreme Court was divided; but the majority considered that the Court had implied authority to adopt a CMP under its powers conferred by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, where the lower courts had themselves used a CMP. Nevertheless, the Court was uncomfortable about doing so, and expressed that discomfort in strong terms.”

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Panopticon, 25th June 2013