David Howarth responds to Lord Woolf’s letter to the Times

An excellent response to Lords Woolf’s letter to in today’s Times from David Howarth, former MP for Cambridge.

Dear Sir,

Lord Woolf’s defence of the government’s proposals to introduce closed material proceedings (‘secret courts’) in civil matters is very surprising for a common law judge.

Lord Woolf argues that under the government’s proposals, judges will be able to control the fairness of the proceedings in front of them. That, of course, assumes that one-sided proceedings at full trial can ever be fair, but there is another problem that should worry anyone who values the way the common law operates. Judicial decisions in a common law system not only resolve the case in front of the court, they also create new law.

The consequences of closed material proceedings include not only trials from which one side is effectively excluded but also judgments that only one side may see.  They cannot help but produce secret law, a set of rules to which only the state has access. This is fundamentally unacceptable.

Yours faithfully,


David Howarth
Reader in Private Law, University of Cambridge
MP for Cambridge 2005-2010

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