We published yesterday Nick Clegg’s latest ‘Letter from the Leader’, focusing on the liberal stand he’s taken this past week on the internet snoopers’ charter and publicly stating his pro-reform/anti-drugs views. But one vexed issue was missing entirely — the Coalition’s proposal to introduce secret courts in the current Justice and Security Bill which has its second reading this Tuesday.
Secret courts were overwhelmingly rejected by the party’s conference in September, and our recent members’ survey showed a clear majority opposed outright, regardless of what compromises might be reached.
Jo Shaw, who leads the Liberal Democrats against secret courts campaign, has replied to Nick’s letter. Here’s what she has to say…
Thanks for your email about the Liberal Democrats successes this week on civil liberties. I was very pleased to hear of your decision to stand up for protecting freedoms of the individuals against an overreaching state. And the news about the Equal Marriage Bill is also good news for all who believe in equality.
I was particularly glad to read from you your comment that:
“it is no use standing up for civil liberties in opposition if you then forget all about them in power”.
However I was disappointed in the omission from your email of any mention of the Justice and Security Bill which introduces secret courts into almost all civil proceedings. For reasons which are not at all clear, the Bill has been rushed to its second reading on Tuesday of this week.
This Bill was described by crossbencher Lord Pannick QC as “unnecessary, unfair and unbalanced”. Lord Pannick voted against the Bill in the Lords, even after his amendments to improve the measures somewhat had been accepted.
You know the outcome of September’s Conference – party members voted overwhelmingly to reject secret courts in any form.
You know the importance of standing up for our key Liberal Democrat principles when in government, as in opposition. And you have previously said:
“…you shouldn’t trust any government, actually including this one. You should not trust government – full stop. The natural inclination of government is to hoard power and information; to accrue power to itself in the name of the public good.”
You are right. We shouldn’t trust any government, particularly not one that tries to put the determination of the most serious claims – torture, rendition, negligence of the armed forces, false imprisonment, habeas corpus – behind closed doors, excluding press, public and the affected civilian party. Secret courts must not be a legacy of a government which includes Liberal Democrats.
Please do what I know you have the authority to do. Please implement our party policy. Please stop this illiberal unnecessary and offensive Bill.
Please stand up for our civil liberties this week as you have last week.
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.