The Justice and Security Bill, which introduces secret courts into almost all civil cases, was rushed into its second reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday this week.
The Minister in charge of secret courts in the Commons, Ken Clarke, made an opening statement in the debate which made it clear that the Coalition Government does not accept the amendments proposed by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, some of which were passed by the Lords. It is still not clear whether the Coalition is going to accept even the limited number of amendments which were passed by the Lords.
What is clear is that the coalition is determined to enact this “unnecessary, unfair and unbalanced” Bill. So it is also clear that the overwhelming rejection of the illiberal and unnecessary secret courts in Part II of the Justice and Security Bill at our Party Conference in September is being ignored by our party leadership.
This Bill would be a terrible blow to our country’s proud history of fair trials and it runs a coach and horses through our core values. It is therefore a significant party problem for Liberal Democrats.
The overwhelming view of Liberal Democrat members is that this Bill is an affront to our values. Our core values are fairness, freedom and openness, and we have democratic structures to ensure they are delivered.
Since Conference voted against the attack on open justice contained in the Bill, Martin Tod and I, along with many others, have been campaigning to see that our core values are delivered in this case. We have had a number of meetings with very senior party members and Ministers. We have been given clear advice as to how secret courts can be stopped.
Given Labour’s weakness on secret courts, the only way secret courts can be stopped is at the Quad. Sadly, as yet, despite numerous requests, Nick Clegg has refused to meet with us to discuss the Bill, and the Liberal Democrat response to it.
We are therefore left with few options open to us. So we are now asking for your support for a further motion for Conference. This calls for the policy decision from September’s Conference to be implemented. If it is not implemented, we are calling for a debate at the next Party Conference to consider an appropriate response in line with the Constitution.
This is difficult territory for every Liberal Democrat. However, we believe standing up for our core values is vitally important, particularly when we are in government. We believe that if the party’s policies are not implemented then the appropriate response needs to be debated by Conference.
If you agree with us that our Liberal Democrat core values of fairness, freedom and openness are fundamentally undermined by Part II of the Justice and Security Bill then please support the motion. Please email me or Martin confirming you are an elected Federal Conference rep and providing your name, local party, and membership number. Many thanks.
Spring Conference motion
- The motion “No Government Above the Law – the Justice and Security Bill” passed overwhelmingly at the Liberal Democrat Federal Conference in September 2012 called for:
o Part II of the Justice and Security Bill to be withdrawn or defeated by Liberal Democrat parliamentarians; and
o Public Interest Immunity to be put into legislation;
- That the amendment calling for “CMPs to be used only as a last resort and in cases that would otherwise be incapable of being tried” was rejected overwhelmingly by the Liberal Democrat Conference;
- That Liberal Democrat peers formed the majority of those voting in the Lords to remove secret courts from the Justice and Security Bill;
- The Liberal Democrat party’s unique characteristic is that party members decide policy at Federal Conference;
- That despite the above, the government’s intention as stated by Ken Clarke in the Commons on 18th December 2012 is to pursue enactment of Part II of the Justice and Security Bill including some, but not all, of the amendments proposed by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
- That the measures in Part II of the Justice and Security Bill will mean the courts system of the United Kingdom will provide neither justice nor security in cases involving allegations against the state of the most serious nature including torture, rendition, negligence of armed forces, malicious prosecution and false imprisonment;
- That the proposals in the Justice and Security Bill are directly contradictory to the core values and stated purpose of the Liberal Democrat party as enshrined in the Preamble to the Constitution, namely to “build and safeguard a fair, free and open society”;
- That Part II of the Justice and Security Bill should be withdrawn immediately;
- That active support for the proposals contained in Part II of the Justice and Security Bill in opposition to agreed party policy is tantamount to conduct evidencing material disagreement with the fundamental values and objectives of the Party.
Conference calls for:
- In the event that Part II of the Justice and Security Bill is not withdrawn in accordance with the above, the agenda of the next Federal Conference shall include a debate to consider sanctions or other measures in accordance with the Constitution;
- A pledge to repeal Part II of the Justice and Security Act (if so enacted) to be included in the Liberal Democrat manifesto for the next General Election.