116 Liberal Democrats write to the Daily Mail opposing secret courts

Today’s Daily Mail contains a letter from 116 Liberal Democrats asking MPs to vote down Part 2 of the Justice and Security Bill. The signatories include a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords, an MEP, 5 members of the Federal Executive, 2 members of the Federal Policy Committee, 6 past and present members of the Liberal Democrat Voice editorial team and a number of parliamentary candidates. The letter says:

We are writing to urge all MPs to do the right thing by voting against Part II of the Justice and Security Bill when it has its Report stage in the Commons today.

The Justice and Security Bill runs a coach and horses through fair trial guarantees which have been part of our country’s constitution since the Civil War and which were first enshrined in the Magna Carta. The secret court measures contained in the Bill could even apply to habeas corpus proceedings.

The stakes for our country could not be higher. The “War on Terror” led to many mistakes: liberty was sacrificed in the name of security. This led directly to British agents facilitating kidnap and torture such as the cases of Binyam Mohammed and Abdul-Hakim Belhaj. For those who are victims of such crimes to be shut out of the trials of their own claims for damages runs totally contrary to any notion of justice.

As the Special Advocates reiterated last week, the case for this Bill has not been made. The Joint Committee on Human Rights reported on 28th February 2013 that the government has failed to meet its requirements to make “Closed Material Procedures” less unfair.

We call on all MPs now to act before it is too late, and they become complicit in irrevocable damage to our constitution.

This issue goes beyond party politics. However, as Liberal Democrats the protection of civil liberties is of crucial importance. We are looking to Nick Clegg to lead the Liberal Democrat MPs in opposition to the Bill.

Opposition to Part II is what liberal democracy demands of us. Secret courts must not form any part of the legacy of a government in which Liberal Democrats have a role.

You can read it and see all of the signatories here.

Julian Huppert and Jo Shaw have both written for LDV in the past few days. Jo Shaw was also interviewed on Radio 4’s Westminster Hour last week and you can listen to that here. The Bill is being debated in the Commons this week and will be amongst the first votes of our new MP, Mike Thornton.

Liberal Democrat bloggers have been very active on this subject. Over at Digital Politico, Charlotte Henry has done a round-up. 

When the Joint Committee for Human Rights has said that it isn’t happy with the Bill, that should be a huge red flag for any Liberal Democrat MP considering voting for it. Even so, the fundamental principle behind Part 2 is flawed. Our legal system has had at its heart the idea that evidence must be fully disclosed and tested in court, or else a decision is simply not fair. The job of any liberal is to protect the individual from the excesses of the state. If this Bill goes through, it will make it easier for the Government to cover up complicity in torture. Surely Liberal Democrats cannot allow that to happen. It remains to be seen whether the leadership will listen to the clearly expressed will of its grassroots activists and vote in accordance with the motion passed at Conference last September.

* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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17 Comments

  • Surely the saddest part of this is that a letter even needed writing…

  • Richard Wingfield 4th Mar '13 - 4:04pm

    I agree, Steve, although it is right to say that both Lib Dem members of the Public Bill Committee (Julian Huppert and Mike Crockart) did vote against Part 2 of the Bill when it was going through its Committee Stage. If all Labour and Lib Dem MPs (plus SNP, Plaid, SDLP, and the MPs from the Alliance, Green Party, and Respect) voted against Part 2, they would be in the majority. What worries me slightly is that Part 2 is precisely the kind of legislation that Labour would have introduced when they were in power and, given that they might well be in a couple of years, I suspect that they’ll vote to improve the Bill rather than vote it down. In that case, our MPs should absolutely vote in favour of Labour’s amendments to the Bill – which do improve it greatly – and for the amendments which have been proposed by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

    This was not in the Coalition Agreement, nor in any party’s manifesto, and it is opposed both as a matter of party policy and by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Our MPs have no obligation whatsoever to support Part 2 of the Bill and every obligation as Liberal Democrats and as liberals to vote against it and, if that is not accomplished, to improve it.

  • “If all Labour and Lib Dem MPs (plus SNP, Plaid, SDLP, and the MPs from the Alliance, Green Party, and Respect) voted against Part 2, they would be in the majority.”

    A number of Tory MPs are also opposed to the proposals.

  • I dont understand why this hasnt been voted down yet. Have Lib Dem MPs not read it or something?

  • Richard Dean 4th Mar '13 - 5:42pm

    It hasn’t been voted down because the objections are founded on a misinterpretation of the proposals, and because more people understand them than misinterpret them, thankfully.
    http://www.libdemvoice.org/a-response-to-julian-hupperts-analysis-on-the-justice-and-security-bill-33488.html

  • Richard Wingfield 4th Mar '13 - 7:12pm

    I think that’s slightly unfair, Richard. Part 2 of the Bill is opposed not only by Liberty and Justice, but by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights which contains many eminent lawyers, and virtually all of the Special Advocates who regularly participate in these Closed Material Proceedings. To suggest that all of these people, as well as Jo Shaw and the vast majority of Lib Dems who oppose Part 2 of the Bill, are simply misinterpreting the proposals is to insult their intelligence and experience.

    I note that Labour has stated that it will not oppose Part 2 of the Bill which means that, unfortunately, it will remain in the Bill and we, as a party, cannot stop it. I hope that we still oppose Part 2 this week, but it becomes even more important now that we support all amendments which mitigate the very worst elements of the Bill.

  • Richard Dean 4th Mar '13 - 7:29pm

    No insult to intelligence or experience was intended, or indeed made. It is perfectly feasible for intelligent and experienced people to misinterpret something, it probably happens quite often, if I am any example! :-)

    116 may seem a lot, but there are a lot more who are not signing, aren’t there? Just one LibDem Lord? Out of how many? Just one LibDem MEP? Only 6 members of the past and present LDV teams? Out of how many LibDem bloggers or editorial teams?

    So why are these others not signing? What is it that they understand that the signers don’t, or vice versa?

  • “To suggest that all of these people, as well as Jo Shaw and the vast majority of Lib Dems who oppose Part 2 of the Bill, are simply misinterpreting the proposals is to insult their intelligence and experience.”

    Indeed. A highlight of the thread that Richard linked to was his solemn assurance to us that “A CMP [closed material procedure] provides the applicant with a way of accessing and interrogating that evidence even though it involves sensitive material.” If nothing else, it put it beyond doubt that he had not the slightest notion of what is actually being proposed.

  • I’ve only just seen this report, which says that the government’s own impact assessment indicates that the proposals will cost more than they save:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2287650/Setting-secret-courts-cost-paying-terror-suspects–according-Governments-report.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

    Can anyone explain what the **** the point of these proposals is, if they’re not even going to save money?????

  • Richard Dean 4th Mar '13 - 11:23pm

    It’s not about saving money, Chris. It’s about justice. In the present arrangements, government cannot defend itself in some cases, and so the present system is unjust. CMPs correct the balance.

  • Richard Wingfield 5th Mar '13 - 12:48am

    How on earth can it be justice with a CMP when the person bringing the claim against the government doesn’t know what evidence is being presented against them and so is unable to challenge it? The special advocates, who do their best, have stated that CMPs are inherently unjust and unfair. Lord Kerr of the Supreme Court made the point extremely well that “evidence which has been insulated from challenge may positively mislead”. If the present system is unjust – and I am yet to be persuaded that it is – then CMPs simply replace one unjust system with another.

    I note that seven Lib Dem MPs voted against the government tonight: Mike Crockart, Tim Farron, John Hemming, Simon Hughes, Julien Huppert, Greg Mulholland and Sarah Teather. I am immensely proud of them. Sarah Teather, in particular, has redeemed herself (at least partially) after her vote against same sex marriage. The other 50 MPs will have to give a very good explanation indeed as to why they felt that voting against the amendments which would have mitigated the worst parts of this Bill is consistent with support for civil liberties.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 1:41am

    It can be justice, because, as I understand it anyway, the special advocates do indeed get to see the evidence, and are indeed able to challenge it.

    Special advocates perhaps have a rather more stressed view than others. Thinking cynically for moment, in the way that some people believe all lawyers are crooks anyway, special advocates have a self-interest in claiming that the procedure is something they don’t want to do, because they might then be able to charge higher fees for doing it! They may also have a problem in that a CMP alters the advocate-client relationship, in a way that may not be good for trust. Also, some advocates may feel that the need not to disclose information to their client hinders their free thoughts on how best to get round the system in the service of their client. They’ll have to think harder than normal about how best to serve those interests, but special advocates are clever people, and they’ll handle the difficulties ok.

    It’s astonishing that some people here on LDV are so illiberal as to believe that MPs should always do what those people want, and that MPs need to be “redeemed” when they exercise freedom of conscience in a free vote.

  • Richard

    The bad news is that in a secret hearing based on evidence you’re not allowed to know about or of course comment on in any way, it was decided that you need to be locked up for a very long time indeed (and naturally denied access to the Internet). And don’t think that it was at all unfair, because you were represented most conscientiously by a “special advocate”. I know that for a fact, because I was that advocate …

    Any complaints?

  • David Evans 5th Mar '13 - 5:09am

    “It remains to be seen whether the leadership will listen to the clearly expressed will of its grassroots activists and vote in accordance with the motion passed at Conference last September.”

    Now they haven’t listened, it really is time for them to go.

  • David Wilkinson 5th Mar '13 - 6:11am

    And today the result of the vote is only 7 Lib Dem Mp’s voted against and the trest claim to be Liberals, what a load of rubbish.
    I thought I joined a party based on real values 34 years ago, that’s turned out wrong again, nothing new after nearly 3 years of sell outs by Cleggie.

  • Richard Dean 5th Mar '13 - 12:39pm

    Chris,
    You really have misunderstood. Look in the comments from Jo Shaw and others. When I queried something, people started by pointing out that CMPs are for civil matters, like the government getting sued for torture, not for prosecuting people. It later transpired that there was a worry that CMPs might be used in cases of possible wrongful arrest, but the worst that has been suggested is that habeus corpus gets suspended for 42 days. Even that is unlikely to happen given the expressed parliamentary wish for the bill not to be used to suspend habeus corpus.. Getting locked up for years is simply not an issue here.

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