By Matthew Barrett
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The Government suffered a number of defeats in the House of Lords last night on its legislative plans for trials held in secret. Ken Clarke's Justice and Security Bill would have allowed Ministers to order secret court hearings to consider evidence in national security cases.
Peers from the across the political spectrum (but notably many Liberal Democrats) voted for a number of measures which guarded against the plans, including giving judges, not Ministers, the say over the use of the secret trials. This was passed by 264 to 159 votes.
Peers also backed giving judges greater discretion to hold the secret hearings, rather than obliging them to do so in national security-related cases, by a majority of 105. The third vote, to give judges and defendants, and not just Ministers, the right to demand secret trials, was passed by 273 votes to 173.
After this third defeat, the Government decided not to oppose a further set of amendments tabled by opponents of the Bill, including ones saying secret trials would be used only as a last resort, and only if the court was unable to use an existing secrecy mechanism, the public interest immunity system.
However, the substance of the issue could be said to have received something like a technical vote of confidence: a backbench Labour amendment to remove the concept of secret hearings from the Bill was defeated by 164 votes to 25.