In November 1926, Mussolini established the Tribunale Speciale, which was a secret court designed to convict those of dissident and anti-state activities. The Organizzazione per la Vigilanza e la Repressione dell’Antifascismo was the secret police force, wtih the authority to arrest opponents of the regime.
4,000 citizens were detained in secret, tried in secret and exiled in secret. 10 individuals were even executed in secret. Secret courts were not isolated to Fascist Italy; Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and countless authoritarian states used or use secret trials to silence dissidents and guard state secrets. The auspice of national security is invoked to justify the illiberal, oppressive and totalitarian nature of clandestine courts; it would become impossible to hold the state accountable, if it had the power to ensure actions and mistakes are kept hidden.
All governments, including this Liberal-Conservative coalition, are capable of abusing such great powers. Secrecy, as a Former American President once said, is repugnant to a free and open society; we should not fear openness and transparency. These are not only liberal principles, but democratic ones. This Justice and Security Bill will morph Britain into a quasi-police state, an Orwellian nightmare would await us. Our liberal democracy could become an arcane relic and at the mercy of a secret judicial system.
The Home Office also has a desire to extend snooping powers, even though countless accusations of abuse have appeared in the press. The state cannot be trusted with security measures; it will inevitably be exploited to monitor harmless and trivial matters. Imagine what could occur if secret courts were allowed? Legitimate protesters might find themselves tried and convicted without even knowing the evidence against them.
Liberal Reform have issued a press release, outlining possible scenarios in which secret courts could be used. The following example directly explains what might occur, if the bill passes:
(4) A newspaper publishes articles exposing corruption by government ministers in the arms trade. The government ministers and the arms companies sue for defamation. The newspaper relies on justification and brings forwards evidence that the allegations are true. The government minister wishes to adduce evidence of malice against the paper and says his sources are security sensitive. He uses a CMP (Closed Material Procedures) to determine the case in his favour relying on the evidence of the security services. The newspaper is effectively gagged from repeating the allegations.
Closed Material Procedures (CMPs)are just a bureaucratic term for secret courts; it is designed to ensure the intentions are pure and not harmful. Yet, a CMP is no different from the Tribunale Speciale; Mussolini’s secret judicial system took all evidence and accusations in private, too. Just because we are a democracy, do not assume the government has our best interests at heart. It will do all it can to save face and reduce the fallout from potential embarrassments and scandals.
I struggle to conclude how any Liberal Democrat M.P. could support and vote in favour of such measures; this negates the philosophy of our party and liberalism in general. Arbitrary government should be restricted, not strengthened. Authority should be opposed, not appeased. We did not go into coalition to construct a police state; it was on a promise to increasing freedom and personal liberty – not destroy it.
* Daniel Furr is a Liberal Democrat member from Canterbury and blogs here