Crunch time for secret courts – email the Lords tonight

This time tomorrow, the House of Lords will have voted on the Justice and Security Bill. These men and women have the future of fair and open justice in their hands.

If they pass the Bill as it stands just now, it will not satisfy the Joint Committee on Human Rights. That is serious stuff. It is counter-intuitive for any Liberal Democrat to be going against what that Committee, not to mention Liberty, Amnesty and every other human rights organisation, says. How many red flags do we need?

The amendments in the Lords will, if passed, ensure that secret courts are only ever used as a last resort after all other options have been exhausted, their continuation will be voted on in every Parliament and on something called the Wiley Balance. This means that the Judge has to balance the harm to national security against the harm to the principles of justice. The special advocates, whose job it would be to represent people who are suing the Government in court, have published a briefing on these amendments which you can read here.

I make no secret of the fact that what I really want to happen is for this Bill to drown in the currents between both Houses. And if it looks like it’s struggling, it should be thrown an anvil rather than a lifejacket. If they can’t reach agreement, then it could fall simply by running out of time. This is still a possibility if the House of Lords puts its mind to it.

So, there is everything to play for tomorrow night. Any Liberal Democrat peer who votes for the amendments will have the party outside the Palace of Westminster firmly on their side. Every test of party opinion has rejected the bill.

Every argument that the Government has put up in defence of the Bill has been shown to be false. The lazy “cash for terrorists” line was totally debunked in scathing fashion by our own peer Lord Ken MacDonald over at Reprieve. He said:

Ken Clarke is being thoroughly misleading. If someone is financing terrorism, the police can arrest them and the CPS can prosecute them, because it’s a crime. This happened all the time when I was DPP. Ministers also possess far-reaching asset-freezing powers that allow the courts to freeze the funds of anyone simply on the basis that they’re suspected of being involved in terrorism.

The sad truth is that Mr Clarke’s comments look like a smokescreen for plans which are aimed not at keeping the British people safe, but at sparing the embarrassment of the security services when they get mixed up in wrongdoing.

Instead of promoting this thoroughly un-British legislation, which is designed to make our courts secret as though we were living in Europe in the 1930s, Mr Clarke and his colleagues in government should concentrate on holding the security agencies to account when they break the law.

Something has been really bothering me these last few days. We used to be the people who stood up for the rights of people and sought to curb the excesses of the state. If this legislation passes as it stands, giving the state a great advantage over anyone suing them for complicity in torture,  and we start charging for translation services for people going through the complicated immigration system, how can we claim to do that any more?

We would never dream of stopping knocking up before the polls close. Tim Farron was apparently still on the phone to a voter in Eastleigh at 10pm on polling day. So, if you haven’t already been emailing ours and crossbench peers, get to it tonight. If we can get enough Labour, Liberal Democrat and crossbench peers together, these votes can be won. You can find details of our peers here and crossbenchers here. Those nice people at Liberal Democrats against secret courts have even prepared a draft for you to use or amend as you please.

Let’s be on message in volume over time to our peers, to coin a phrase,  and tell them “No to secret courts.” Anvils to the ready!

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

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3 Comments

  • Richard Dean 25th Mar '13 - 9:59pm

    OK, Caron, I will.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 26th Mar '13 - 7:20am

    I have a feeling you will be saying something different.

  • Richard Dean 26th Mar '13 - 7:44am

    Not necessarily. One way of exploring the strengths and weaknesses of your own case is to argue against it. An actual vote might be different.

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