As the Justice and Security Bill is debated in the House of Lords for the second day this week, 172 Liberal Democrats have written to the Times to express opposition to the proposals for secret courts and their letter has been published today (£). Although only five names are given in the paper, the full list of 172 who signed before the letter was sent and more who signed subsequently is published on the Lib Dems against secret courts website.
What’s interesting about the list is that it contains such a broad range of signatories, from people who are normally very loyal to the leadership to those we affectionately call the Awkward Squad, from economic to social liberal, from north, south, east and west of the UK and from members of federal committees, former candidates and MPs and current councillors to grassroots activists. It appears that the only people in the Party not offended by these provisions are on the Government payroll.
The text of the letter is as follows:
Your leader on Monday expressed your paper’s opposition to the Government’s plans for “secret courts”. We, as members of the Liberal Democrats, agree.
On Monday of this week crossbencher Lord Pannick QC described the Bill’s proposals as “unfair, unnecessary and unbalanced”. We are urging Liberal Democrat peers to vote for the amendment supported by Lords Dubs, Lord Strasburger and Baroness Kennedy which deletes clause 6 of the Bill.
The issue at stake – open and equal justice – could hardly be more serious. We believe the proposals are neither liberal not democratic, and go right to the heart of what it means to support liberal democracy and the Liberal Democrat party.
If clause 6 is deleted, secret courts will not blight our civil courts and our international standing for decades to come. It will also mean the reputation of the Liberal Democrats as champions of civil liberties will remain intact and that Liberal Democrats across the country can continue to assert, as our constitution states, that our party “exists to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society”.
Should the Bill pass with secret courts included, the damage to our justice system, our country and our party will be incalculable.
The amendment signed by Lord Dubs, Baronness Kennedy and Liberal Democrat Paul Strasburger which simply deletes the provision for closed material procedures may be voted on this evening. I would be very surprised if there were no Liberal Democrat rebels.
* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings