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Page last updated at 07:59 GMT, Wednesday, 4 April 2012 08:59 UK

Clarke defends secret court proposals

The justice secretary has defended government plans to hold more inquests and civil cases in private, where national security is involved saying that "we are consulting on how to get intelligence evidence into court which would make the service more accountable and effective".

Kenneth Clarke was speaking as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg expressed concern over the proposals in a letter to the National Security Council, saying that judges, not ministers, should decide what should be kept private.

It comes alongside a report from the cross-party Joint Committee on Human Rights, which has also condemned the government's proposals as being unfair.

Mr Clarke told the Today programme's James Naughtie that "the problem is, you can't have your British intelligence officers, giving evidence in open court... now I would like actually the judge to be able to take that evidence into account but it's got to be in some closed procedure".

Gordon Corera, security correspondent said that these proposals are a result of a series of cases coming from detainees of Guantanamo Bay, most notably the case of Binyam Mohamed, where the government said that it was forced to reveal intelligence information shared by its allies, the US, which has caused problems in the relationship.

But Kenneth Clarke maintained that "I don't feel under immense American pressure" to change the law to closed proceedings on national security grounds.

"I can't force the Americans to give our intelligence people full cooperation, if they fear our courts, they won't give us information," he said.

On the issue addressed by Nick Clegg on who makes the decision on when court proceedings should be closed, he agreed that it can not be down to the secretary of state saying that "the judge should be able to check decision".

He said that he "agrees with Nick Clegg on principle," and they are "consulting on this in order to make this more accountable".

The justice secretary also addressed the issue of the so-called "snoopers charter" where the government has proposed to extend surveillance legislation to include electronic communication, he said these would be "the same safeguards we have lived with telephones for some time".

"The reason we are revising this is to get the balance right," he said, adding that he did not think he would have difficulty in persuading Mr Clegg because only a quarter of communication is now done by telephones, with more and more people using the internet.

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