A day for Liberal Democrats to speak out for Justice?

It’s not a comfortable day to be a Liberal Democrat today.

The House of Lords is debating the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. Will it overturn the Commons’ rejection of its amendment protecting the right to Judicial Review? Jonathan Marks wrote of his concerns about this provision earlier this year. When it was last discussed, 17 Liberal Democrats supported the rebel amendment and 43 supported the Government position. You have to ask serious questions when even Lord Carlile thinks the Government is going too far.

It was a Judicial Review that ruled the appalling Prisoner Book ban unlawful last week. The state has more than enough power and screws things up, or at the very least pushes the boundaries all the time. It is vital that citizens have the chance to challenge government decisions in the courts. It’s a vital check on power that should not be being mucked around with.

How can citizens take the government on if the government throws all the tools at their disposal in the bin?

While that’s going on, the Commons will be starting line by line scrutiny of the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill. For all I know that this Bill would be a million times worse if the Tories, or Labour for that matter, had been bringing it in on their own, I still have huge reservations about it. Those who support the Bill will say that it’s perfectly reasonable to set conditions on people the government suspects have been to fight in Syria and if people decide they don’t want to report to a Police Station every day or make sure the authorities know where they’re living, then they don’t have to come back for two years.  I’m not sure that refusing to meet our obligations to our own citizens is a good precedent to set. After all, do we want other countries to refuse to have their citizens, who may be in the UK, back? If people have committed crimes, put them through the criminal justice system. It really is that simple.

David Anderson, the Government’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, told Parliament’s Human Rights Committee last month that the orders were very much more a managed return and were much diluted from David Cameron’s initial proposals. He did say, though, that the current proposals lacked judicial oversight. From the Guardian:

Anderson told parliament’s joint human rights committee that the nature of the proposal had changed. “It is not a power to prevent people returning. It is a power to require people to attend a meeting with the police,” he said.

Anderson said that unlike the terrorism prevention and investigation measures (TPIMS), there appeared to be no provision for the courts to scrutinise the decision to issue a temporary exclusion order or to ensure disclosure of the evidence on which it was based.

He said that judicial review was a possibility, but in practice very difficult for somebody excluded from the country.

I’m also concerned that young people suspected to be heading out to Syria to fight can be stopped from doing so on the say so of a senior Police Officer for 14 days. It was put to me that I might like someone stopping my child if they were set on going. Of course. I’m just not sure that the young people concerned will have an awful lot of trust in the Police and the action will make them more determined.

Whilst I applaud Nick Clegg for not allowing Theresa May to get very far down her counter terrorism to-do list, I still feel deeply uneasy about this bill. I am far from convinced that it will make anyone safer and I worry that it will lead to more resentment and more Islamophobia. It seems to me to fail on both the liberty and security fronts and I wish it didn’t have our name on it.

My instinct has me wanting to protest against both of these measures, yet good liberals we all respect will be voting for them. Am I over-reacting? What do you think?


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Jonathan Featonby 9th Dec '14 - 3:07pm

    You’re completely right to be concerned about the Judicial Review changes. There are no good reasons for the changes, although Chris Grayling is probably fed up of continually losing Judicial Reviews. Supporting this policy is another step down the road of introducing secret courts, decimating the legal aid system and the statelessness powers in the Immigration Act.

    Less concerned about the Counter-Terrorism Bill, but there need to be serious questions asked how the exclusion orders will work in practice. I don’t like the relocation element being introduced into TPIMs (which are after all only a civil order), although David Anderson doesn’t seem to have a problem with it.

  • George Selmer 9th Dec '14 - 7:45pm

    If coalition has sometimes felt like death by a thousand cuts, the Criminal Justice & Courts bill seems like a particularly deep one. The idea that we could support the Judicial Review changes is one that I find quite horrifying. Grayling’s position in the Commons’ debate was basically that accountability was trumped by expediency and convenience for ministers. It’s certainly true that the use of JR has increased in recent years. Firstly, why is this a bad thing? Secondly, if government didn’t try to implement such objectionable legislation, surely there would be less need for JR? I’m particularly distressed, Caron, as you hint you are, to see that “good liberals we all respect” have and will support these changes. In the wake of the Autumn Statement (which we seem in a hurry to simultaneously own and disown) I am struggling to see how much more confused the party could get at the moment.

  • Tsar Nicolas 9th Dec '14 - 8:05pm

    Caron Lindsay | Tue 9th December 2014 – 2:35 pm

    “It’s not a comfortable day to be a Liberal Democrat today.”

    It hasn’t been for four years and seven months.

  • Neil Sandison 10th Dec '14 - 1:15pm

    Is history repeating its self national Liberals in government holding up a conservative government .Liberal reformers unhappy wih what is being done in their name.1919 all over again .

  • Helen Dudden 12th Dec '14 - 9:27am

    For many years I tried to get the Lib.Dems interested in the wrongs of law within certain areas of the EU. Child access and illegal retention. No one was interested.

    Again, human rights, the rights of the child. Very unhappy children, anorexia and self harming are written on this subject, as part if the failures that become part of some children’s lives, just completed an article for a legal forum.

    I decided to become part of the system, so study and do it yourself.

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