The Liberal Democrat Lawyers’ Association held a special meeting on Monday to discuss the Justice and Security Bill. They have sent this message to Lib Dem peers:
It was the unanimous view of the meeting that the measures introduced by the Justice and Security Bill amount to an attack on the Rule of Law in the United Kingdom and that those present were opposed to the measures contained in Part II of the Bill. I was felt that arguably the measures are a greater attack on our traditions and freedoms than that posed by terrorists, as the infringement of our freedoms is State-led.
The meeting urged all peers, and MPs, particularly Liberal Democrats, to support the three amendments for the following reasons:
1. Last resort
The responsible Minister, Ken Clarke, has said that the use of a Closed Material Procedure should be only as a last resort. However his wording currently included in the Bill does not deliver this. The wording proposed by the amendment, which was passed by the Lords on 21st November 2012, and was reversed by the Commons in Committee, delivers the last resort meaning and effect.
2. Wiley balance
For decades judges have protected our national security whilst also protecting the open and fair administration of justice. Throughout the course of this Bill the government has been unable to point to a single case where national security has been jeopardised by a judge’s order for disclosure. The “Wiley balance” amendment gives the judge the ability, in essence, to balance the public interest in protecting national security with the public interest in the open and fair administration of justice.
This Bill has constitutional significance. It changes at a stroke the relationship between the State and the individual – and the ability of the individual to call authority to account for wrongdoing. As such, it is entirely appropriate for a renewal clause to be debated every four years.
* Mary Reid is the Tuesday Editor on Lib Dem Voice.