For a number of years where it was felt that taking a case into court may result in information being divulged that could harm national security successive British Governments have settled out of court.
This Coalition Government decided that this approach was too costly and so resolved to introduce closed material procedures, or secret courts, for civil cases brought by citizens against the intelligence services.
In these secret courts the citizen will lay their case before a Judge, who will then sit in private with the intelligence services present but the Citizen not, and consider evidence that may never have been seen or even known about by the citizen concerned.
There is no right for the citizen to defend themselves against allegations made in these cases.
The first line to the preamble to the party’s constitution tells us that the “Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair free and open society…” and so many of us have questioned how any of our Members of Parliament could possibly have signed up to this policy.
During the questions to Nick Clegg at Spring Conference in Brighton I asked the party leader what I should tell people who were asking what on earth Liberal Democrats are doing supporting the introduction of secret courts. Nick responded by pointing out that the secret courts would not relate to criminal law, only to civil law, and in doing so totally evaded answering the question that had been asked.The detention of David Miranda demonstrates clearly how wrong Nick Clegg is on this issue. David Miranda, as the BBC reports, has launched a legal challenge to his detention. This will be determined in the Civil Courts, not the criminal courts. That means that the Judge could order a Closed Material Procedure. The Police could therefore present their evidence in private to a Judge without Mr Miranda ever knowing what is being said about him, why the police came to the decision they did, or indeed to challenge any inaccurate information that the police may bring before the judge.I hope it is now becoming clearer why this illiberal legislation must be reversed at the earliest opportunity.
* Chair of Manchester Gorton Liberal Democrats, a member of the NW Regional Executive and the English Council and a former City Councillor of 19 years