WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
April 20 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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Shamina Begum lawyer withdraws due to unfair process

Shamina Begum lawyer withdraws due to unfair process

Old Bailey: the central criminal court of England and Wales

Shamima Begum’s lawyer has refused to take cases over the government’s failure to support fair justice.

Begum has been engaged in a legal battle to regain her citizenship and return to the UK, claiming that she was a victim of human trafficking and radicalisation as a minor. Her lawyer, Angus McCullough KC, has publically withdrawn from his work as a special advocate, with detailed criticism of the government’s lack of support for this system.

The so called ‘secret hearings’, also known as closed materials proceedings (CMPs), have long been a subject of controversy in terms of basic principles of fairness and open justice in the UK’s legal landscape. Parties can be denied access to evidence used against them by the State, but that evidence can nonetheless be considered by the judge or tribunal deciding the case. Their lawyer can see this evidence, but not communicate with their client directly.

McCullough explained that his departure was fuelled by the belief that the system’s imbalances against defendants have been exacerbated by the government’s lack of support for special advocates. The ‘silence barrier’ between lawyer and client impedes effective legal representation and the right to a fair trial, putting individuals at a disadvantage. Special advocates are also hamstrung by under-resourcing, which directly affects their ability to navigate complex cases effectively. Stagnant pay rates for special advocates for over two decades also raise concerns about the system’s sustainability. McCullough, who has appeared in more than 50 closed material cases in the last 20 years, stated that he had requested a meeting with Ministry of Justice officials to explain his concerns but had received no answer.

An independent review made numerous recommendations for improving the CMP system, however, McCullough claims that the government has not acted promptly to implement them. The government is aiming to publish a public response by early 2024 at the earliest.

Urgent reforms are needed to address the issues plaguing CMPs and ensure that justice is served. This includes addressing budgetary constraints for special advocates, which are vital for the system’s proper functioning and facilitating open justice. There are concerns that the delayed response to the identified unfairness in the CMP  system is undermining the fair administration of justice.