The chief high court judge has taken the unusual step of explaining the heavy secrecy surrounding a hearing in the basement of the High Court in Wellington, noting it runs counter to the principle of open justice.

In a statement this morning, Justice Geoffrey Venning said the matter concerned a challenge to the Minister of Internal Affairs' decision to cancel a passport.

Justice Venning said the closed court hearing - which began yesterday and is scheduled to wrap up today - was due to the hearing of classified security information.

Justice Venning said the Passports Act 1992 excluded many interested parties from such hearings - incuding the person whose passport was cancelled and their lawyer.


"The Act requires the court to conduct such hearings in the absence of the person in respect of whom the decision concern was made, legal representatives of that person and members of the public," he said.

"It is a statutory exemption to the principle of open justice which the Court is obliged by the legislation to provide."

Other media reported yesterday the secret nature of the hearing saw the rare operation of metal detectors for building visitors, the court's cafe closed and a heavy presence of dark-suited security personnel.

The hearing was also excluded from the published daily list of proceedings from the court.

Justice Venning said this exclusion from the daily list was a mistake.