The Minister of Justice has confirmed the introduction of the Security Information in Proceedings Legislation Bill to Parliament.
National security information is information which, if disclosed, would be likely to prejudice New Zealand’s security, defence, or international relations.
“This Bill adds to the Government’s work to strengthen New Zealand’s protections against security threats and relates to the recommendations of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the March 15 mosques attack to review all legislation relevant to counter terrorism,” Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi said.
The Law Commission has also investigated the issue and found that current law in this area lacked clear and consistent protections for individuals and national security, Kris Faafoi said.
“Currently there is a lack of assurance that national security information can be adequately protected if it needs to be used in court proceedings.
“The current law may also disadvantage non-Crown parties who may not know the reason for a decision against them and may not be in a position to challenge the actions or decisions of the Crown. These disadvantages have implications for natural justice rights,” Kris Faafoi said.
The Bill implements the Law Commission’s recommendations in its report, The Crown in Court: A Review of the Crown Proceedings Act and National Security Information in Proceedings [NZLC R135].
The Bill provides a framework for dealing with national security information in civil and criminal proceedings. The Bill will:
provide greater assurance to the Crown that national security information can be used in court proceedings while still being protected;
standardise and clarify protections for non-Crown parties; and
ensure clear, consistent processes are followed in a way that addresses natural justice requirements as far as possible.
The key feature of the Bill is that there would be a closed court process for both a preliminary and substantive civil hearing. The court would be closed to the public, media, any non-Crown parties and their lawyers.
Safeguards mitigate the absence of the non-Crown party. A security cleared special advocate will represent the non-Crown party in the closed court hearing. The special advocate and judge would have full access to the national security information.
“While there are very few cases which will warrant these measures, the sensitive nature of such cases and evidence relating to them needs to be dealt with in a consistent and secure way.
“That includes ensuring that our international partners, who may need to share sensitive information in confidence for such cases, can trust the information is handled securely,” Minister Faafoi said.
The Bill will replace schemes for managing national security information in a number of pieces of legislation including the Passports Act 2005, the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 and the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act 2013.
Once the Bill has its first reading, the next step is for the Justice Select Committee to call for public submissions on the Bill.