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The government's enthusiasm for secret courts has been set back after the UK's most senior judges quashed anti-terrorist sanctions imposed on an Iranian bank and dismissed the intelligence involved as insignificant. In two related judgments, the ...
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Treasury ordered to lift sanctions against Bank Mellat, as critics warn open justice and rule of law are casualties of secret courts
The government's enthusiasm for secret courts has been set back after the UK's most senior judges quashed anti-terrorist sanctions imposed on an Iranian bank and dismissed the intelligence involved as insignificant.
In two related judgments, the supreme court ordered the Treasury to remove sanctions against Bank Mellat and said that in future, appeal courts should go into closed session "only where it has been convincingly demonstrated to be genuinely necessary in the interests of justice".
The Tehran-based bank has been fighting to have the sanctions lifted since 2009. The UK Treasury alleged that the bank had financed firms involved in Iran's nuclear weapons programme.
In order to justify the allegations, the Treasury asked the supreme court to go into a secret session for the first time this spring.
In the first judgment, read out by Lord Neuberger, the president of the supreme court, the justices said: "Having held a closed hearing, it turned out that there had been no point in the supreme court seeing the closed judgment [which related to the secret intelligence], because there was nothing in it which could have affected [our] reasoning in relation to the substantive appeal.
"A [closed hearing] should be resorted to only where it has been convincingly demonstrated to be genuinely necessary in the interests of justice. If the court strongly suspects that nothing in the closed material is likely to affect the outcome of the appeal, it should not order a closed hearing."
Liberty intervened in the case. Corinna Ferguson, legal officer for the human rights group, said: "Proud principles of open justice and the rule of law are the casualties as the secret justice disease infects the highest court in the land. Today's chilling judgment brutally exposes the government's claims and lays bare its willingness to overstate the importance of secrecy to serve its own ends.
"Given recent revelations of spying and snooping it really does seem that it's one rule for the state, another for everyone else – no scrutiny for them; no privacy for us."
Sarosh Zaiwalla, of Zaiwalla & Co Solicitors, who represented Bank Mellat, said: "Today's ruling is a victory for the rule of law as much as it is for Bank Mellat. The judgment will put enormous confidence in the independence of the British judiciary and sets an example that even controversial disputes can be resolved by applying the principle of rule of law through the British courts." Bank Mellat has always denied supporting Iran's nuclear weapons programme.
- UK supreme court
- Open justice
- Middle East and North Africa
- UK security and counter-terrorism
- Counter-terrorism policy
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