Opinion: Secret courts and the detention of David Miranda

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

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9 Comments

  • Completely agree.

  • Simon Hebditch 21st Aug '13 - 11:30am

    I thought I heard on the BBC news this morning that the PM, Deputy PM and Home Secretary were informed of the police proposal to detain David Miranda. Is that correct or has my hearing one wrong?

  • “I thought I heard on the BBC news this morning that the PM, Deputy PM and Home Secretary were informed of the police proposal to detain David Miranda. Is that correct or has my hearing one wrong?”

    I think that related to the mission to persuade the Guardian to destroy its hard discs.

  • Robert Smith 21st Aug '13 - 1:26pm

    What about Nick Clegg condeming the questioning of David Miranda. I thought we were a party that fought to stop misuse of ‘terror’ legislation. The treatment of the Guardian has been truly appalling. I want a senoir figure to say that. I have stood firm supporting the coalition but this is a step to far for me, I am close to cancelling my membership.

  • Melanie Harvey 21st Aug '13 - 6:27pm

    The courts and police are openly corrupt in any case. secret courts are just an announcement they will be.

  • David Siegwart 22nd Aug '13 - 12:51am

    Iain, you are very right to raise strong concerns. Do everything in your power to persuade your leaders to reverse their lack of defense of civil liberties, especially concerning state surveillance, press freedom to whistleblow on lawlessness in government, and the secret state. The Liberal Democrats is on the brink – will it be complicit in further deterioration of our democracy, or will it hold firm. You yourself will be tested – is your allegiance to a set of principles, to a way of life, to the values that drew you to politics, or will you yourself be swept up within the state machine.

  • David White 22nd Aug '13 - 1:13pm

    Well said, David Siegwart and Melanie Harvey.

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