Al-Rawi & others v The Security Service & others

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date18 November 2009
Neutral Citation[2009] EWHC 2959 (QB)
Docket NumberCase No: HQ08X01180 HQ08X01416 HQ08X03220 HQ08X01686
CourtQueen's Bench Division
Date18 November 2009

[2009] EWHC 2959 (QB)



Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL


Mr Justice Silber

Case No: HQ08X01180





(1) Bisher Al Rawi
(2) Jamil El Banna
(3) Richard Belmar
(4) Omar Deghayes
(5) Moazzam Begg
(1) The Security Service
(2) The Secret Intelligence Service
(3) The Attorney-General
(4) The Foreign and Commonwealth Office
(5) The Home Office Justice and Liberty
Defendants Interveners

Timothy Otty QC, Richard Hermer QC and Tom Hickman (instructed by Birnberg Peirce &Co) for the First, Second and Fourth Claimants

Michael Fordham QC and Naina Patel (i) (instructed by Birnberg Peirce & Co) for the Third and Fifth Claimants (ii) (instructed by Leigh Day& Co) for the Sixth Claimant and (iii) (instructed by Christian Khan) for the Seventh Claimant

Jonathan Crow QC, Karen Steyn, Daniel Beard and Andrew O'Connor (instructed by the Treasury Solicitor) for the Defendants

Liberty and Justice, the Interveners, made joint written submissions prepared by Nigel Pleming QC, Eric Metcalfe and Corinna Ferguson

Hearing dates: 27 and 28 October 2009

Further written submissions from counsel for the claimants and the defendants submitted on 3 November 2009


I Introduction


The issue in this case is whether it could be proper and lawful for a court to order that a "closed material" procedure be adopted in a civil claim for damages. It arises in the present claim, which has been brought against organs of the State by seven former detainees, who have been held by foreign states at various locations including in each case the United States' detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.


The precise preliminary issue, which was ordered on 24 September 2009 for this court's determination and which was amended by agreement during the course of the hearing, is :-

"Could it be lawful and proper for a court to order that a "closed material procedure" (as defined below) be adopted in a civil claim for damages?

Definition of "closed material procedure"

A "closed material procedure" means a procedure in which:-

(a) a party is permitted to

(i) comply with his obligations for disclosure of documents, and

(ii) rely on pleadings and/or written evidence and/or oral evidence without disclosing such material to other parties if and to the extent that disclosure to them would be contrary to the public interest (such withheld material being known as "closed material"), and

(b) disclosure of such closed material is made to Special Advocates and, where appropriate, the court; and

(c) the court must ensure that such closed material is not disclosed to any other parties or to any other person, save where it is satisfied that such disclosure would not be contrary to the public interest.

For the purposes of this definition, disclosure is contrary to the public interest if it is made contrary to the interests of national security, the international relations of the United Kingdom, the detection and prevention of crime, or in any other circumstances where disclosure is likely to harm the public interest".

In its original form, the preliminary issue contained the words "if satisfied that such a procedure is necessary for the just disposal of the case" after the word "damage" in the third line, but as I have mentioned, those words were deleted by agreement as their meaning was not clear and they did not appear to add anything to the preceding words.


The claimants with the support of Justice and Liberty, who are Interveners, contend that the preliminary issue has to be answered in the negative because their submission is that "it can never be lawful and proper for a court to impose a "closed material procedure" on a party from whom material is sought to be withheld". They contend that any problems relating to the disclosure of matters relating to national security could be and must be resolved by using the well-known principles for dealing with claims for Public Interest Immunity ("PII"). The defendants disagree and they contend that the preliminary issue should be answered in the affirmative as a closed material procedure is a lawful and proper course for a court to impose in a civil claim for damages.


There are important differences between the PII procedure and the closed material procedure which uses a special advocate. The salient aspects of the PII procedure are that "documents otherwise relevant and liable to production must not be produced if the public interest requires that they should be withheld" (per Viscount Simon LC in Duncan v Cammell Laird & Co [1942] AC 624, 636). The application of the PII test means that with the benefit of submissions from counsel for the State, the court has to weigh the public interest in not disclosing material against the importance of the material to the parties and to the administration of justice. The closed material procedure is different and Sir Anthony Clarke MR described the roles of the special advocate, who is an integral part of this procedure and who represents the party who is not allowed to see the closed material, when he said in AHK v Secretary of State for Home Department [2009] 1 WLR 2049 that: -

"38… (4) They are well understood and include taking instructions from the claimant, but only before the special advocate sees any of the closed material, considering whether further documents are required and whether gisting is required, discussing the problems with counsel for the Secretary of State, making appropriate submissions to the court and testing and probing the evidence as the special advocate thinks fit".

Of course, once the closed material is served on the special advocate, his or her ability to communicate with the appellant or his representative is severely curtailed. The closed material procedure in theory prevents one party from knowing the case against him, giving instructions on it, challenging it or knowing the full reasons for a court's decision. In practice, however, the courts have ensured that the rights of claimants under article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights ("ECHR") are preserved which means that in practice the closed material procedure is modified. I have not heard submissions on how this could, should or would be done in this case but as is well-known in Home Secretary v AF (No 3) [2009] 3 WLR 74, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers said of a recent decision of the Strasbourg Court that it:-

"59…establishes that the controlee must be given sufficient information about the allegations against him to enable him to give effective instructions in relation to those allegations. Provided that this requirement is satisfied there can be a fair trial notwithstanding that the controlee is not provided with the detail or the sources of the evidence forming the basis of the allegations".


It is appropriate to mention now three matters relating to the preliminary issue. First, it must be stressed that the fact that a closed material procedure is used does not mean that the claimants will not see any of the material because the special advocate would be required to consider if any of the closed documents should not be withheld from open disclosure to the claimants in the light of the rights of the claimants under the ECHR and at common law and then to make submissions. If a closed material procedure was adopted in a private law claim, it would mean that the court would have to consider how the procedure would have to be modified to ensure that article 6 rights were respected either by following the procedure set out in AF (supra) or otherwise. After all any court adopting the closed material procedure in a private law claim for damages would have an obligation to ensure that the rights of litigants as set out in the ECHR are respected which is after all what the House of Lords did in AF (supra). The admirable submissions of counsel for the claimants did not appear to appreciate this point.


Second, it is unfortunate that the preliminary issue did not include consideration of first whether the closed material procedure should be used in the present case or second the precise workings of the anticipated closed material procedure. Third, this is very complicated litigation with the defendants' solicitor stating in a witness statement dated 28 October 2009 that the results of the defendant's work to date are that "now over 250,000 documents identified as potentially relevant, each document often comprising many pages" (5th witness statement of David Mackie made on 28 October 2009, paragraph 3). As I will explain, there are said to be many sensitive documents which may or will raise PII issues.

II The Issues


As the issue in this case is a stark question of law, an understanding of the detailed background to these claims is unnecessary but as is well known, each of the claimants has been the subject of detention by foreign states at various locations including at the notorious United States detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Each of the claimants now seeks damages in relation to the alleged acts or omissions of the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the Home Office with the Attorney-General being sued only in a representative capacity.


The thrust of the claims is that each of the defendants is alleged to have caused or contributed to the detention of each claimant and his alleged ill-treatment by foreign authorities. The case for each claimant is that he was subjected to unlawful extraordinary rendition, to torture and to inhuman and degrading treatment during the course of his detention. It is said by the claimants that none of them has ever been involved in terrorism. The defendants deny each of these allegations.


The causes of action are not...

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    • Court of Appeal (Civil Division)
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2 books & journal articles
  • Disclosure of Foreign Intelligence Material: CPIA, Norwich Pharmacal and the War on Terror
    • United Kingdom
    • International Journal of Evidence & Proof, The No. 15-4, October 2011
    • 1 October 2011
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    • Journal of Law and Society No. 37-3, September 2010
    • 1 September 2010
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