Losing one of our best….an appreciation of Jo Shaw

I’m sitting in the departure lounge at Gatwick, with a massive infusion of Earl Grey which I hope will keep me awake for a couple more hours. With less than four hours’ sleep after staying longer than I’d planned at the Glee Club, I am close to being wrecked. I’m far too old for this carry on, but I’ll not willingly give it up. Luckily I was relatively abstemious with alcohol, so there was no hangover. Mind you, if there had been Skittles Vodka on offer as a Clegg’s speech drinking game, I’d have happily indulged. A shot every time he talked about a stronger economy, a fairer society and enabling people to get on in life might have numbed the pain of losing a darned good liberal woman from the party.

Yes, the secret courts emergency motion passed by a massive majority. A senior government minister didn’t even bother to show solidarity with the very few voting against because he didn’t see the point. Yes, the leadership will ignore it. Yes, the Liberal Democrats against secret courts campaign will continue and yes, I and others need to have a think about how to heal the widening disconnect between leadership and activists before it turns toxic. But Jo Shaw’s resignation from the party hurts.

Jo Shaw is the sort of strong liberal voice this party should be championing, not losing. She has put so much effort into encouraging diversity and encouraging women in the party. I didn’t know that she was going to resign so dramatically during her speech proposing the motion. I’m glad, too. I would have found it really difficult to handle.

She put her heart and soul in to the campaign within the party on secret courts. keeping us all interested and motivated over many months, keeping us informed, armed with the best arguments. She’d inspired us to keep going, kept the issue in the party’s consciousness. This campaign will continue.

I was looking forward to working with her on the Federal Executive. Another woman with similar views to my own was bound to be a good thing and her advice as we try to tackle the chronic lack of diversity would have been great. She has such a good awareness of issues of gender and power and how to help women and girls both in the UK and further afield.

One of Jo’s last acts as a Liberal Democrat member was to encourage a very reluctant me to put a speaker’s card in for the debate today. I didn’t think I’d hold my own in a debate with clever lawyers. She reassured and cajoled and the result was that I made my first Federal Conference speech in a very long time. She helped my find an actual voice to go along with the one from behind the keyboard.

While I respect the decision Jo has made, I am not going anywhere and I’ll put that voice to good use in promoting the values she and I share.

I might have lost a party colleague today, but I haven’t lost a friend. The party is poorer tonight, but I hope she’ll be back one day.

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

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  • Eddie Sammon 10th Mar '13 - 7:09pm

    Have you heard about the British hostage murdered by a group of Nigerian terrorists today? Do you think we should be sending those guys money if they make a claim against us? What the party did was not abhorrently illiberal, if people can’t accept reasonable decisions then they are better off out the party.

  • Simon Beard 10th Mar '13 - 7:18pm

    Thank you Carron, and thank you Jo. We need people who have the courage to stand up for what they believe in, even if it means leaving a party to which they have been strongly committed for many years.

    We also need people who have the courage to stand up for what they believe in, even if it means staying in a party that has stopped listening to them.

    My personal view is that if there is any chance secret courts might force our secret service to have to face up to the crimes it has committed then they may be worth it, and that once any prosecution has succeeded despite of secret courts then they will be much harder to justify. However its not the illiberalism of secret justice that makes me angy, its the lack of democracy within our party and the way the leadership has decided not even to engage with the membership, let alone stand up for what they believe in.

  • Eddie saumon

    A rather ungracious comment if I may say so.

    I admire someone with principles such as these, and I think her decision should be respected.

    As said on another thread, the LD will have happily taken a significant number of ex-Labour members and voters because of their illiberal approach to civil liberties (copyright Jack Straw).

    Betrayal of those principles take away one of the reasons to vote Liberal Democrat. Opposing these policies is not far-left as you insinuated on another thread and is a matter of respect and the rights of others – who knows what the future may bring.

    We talk about red lines but this was surely one that most of us never thought the party would cross .

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Mar '13 - 7:33pm

    I respect people’s decisions and principles, I like many of you are tired of the infighting in the party and think we need to decide what we are. I don’t think the centrist and more radical members can live together in the same party.

    Again, it’s not so much personal, it’s just all there are deep divisions in the party and it’s undermining our ability to move forward. I would rather we got behind the party rather than praise the renegrades who are creating bad publicity for us.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Mar '13 - 7:34pm


  • but Eddie surely it is not people like Jo who are busy ignoring conference decisions?

    I understand your frustration but you need to ensure it is focused on the right place

  • Simon Bamonte 10th Mar '13 - 7:48pm

    @Eddie Sammon: “I would rather we got behind the party rather than praise the renegrades who are creating bad publicity for us.”

    The Parliamentary party are the ones who are the renegades. They’ve not only ignored Conference on “secret courts”, but also on the NHS reforms and aspects of the Welfare bill as well. It is they who are creating the bad publicity, not the grassroots members.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Mar '13 - 7:53pm

    I understand the party’s frustration. I think the issue of the party’s future will be resolved soon after 2015. Hopefully.

  • Peter Hayes 10th Mar '13 - 7:54pm

    It is time LDV had a recommend or not option so the original poster knows what we think without having to post a me too. I have been a supporter since Joe Grimmond but the party now has split into social and old style free trade Liberals. I’ll support my local MP Martin Horwood even though he follows the management line more often than I would hope, the alternative is an London based Tory, but I can only deliver I can not give the line Nick gave if I was door knocking.

    Peter H

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Mar '13 - 8:05pm

    Guys, I appreciate everyone’s point of view and I argue with respect on a personal level. We all recognise this is a battle for the party’s heart and soul and may it be fought with grace, but fought it will be.

  • Peter Hayes 10th Mar '13 - 8:07pm

    @alex Marsh. Wish the LDV had a recommend system (or not) so I did not have to add another post. You expressed my views exactly.

  • Eddie Sammon

    Can you elaborate on the ‘heart and soul’ bit – who are you fighting and why?

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Mar '13 - 8:21pm

    No sorry.

  • “This campaign will continue.”

    What does this mean? The campaign Jo ran was well constructed but seemed entirely based around the idea that if we got the message over to the leadership how people felt they would do the right thing. When the leader won’t even meet with people over an issue till the very last moment then that isn’t going to get anywhere.

    The emergency motion submitted to conference seemed to drop the calls for appropriate action to be taken if the Parliamentary Party ignored conference votes so it doesn’t really amount to much except like telling a misbehaving toddler “I’ve told you once before…..”

    It’s time the boat started being much more seriously rocked. But given the behaviour of the leadership over the weekend Jo’s course of action looks much more attractive to me.

  • Richard Dean 10th Mar '13 - 8:33pm

    Jo Shaw was fighting for a “principle” of justice that is illusory, and not shared by many people at all. Her resignation, from a party that apparently supports her, is perhaps an indication that she has realised that she has been wrong.

    Most people believe that a defendant has a right to mount a defence, and therefore that a government has a right to defend itself when accused. Like Eddie Sammon, most people are aware of complexity in reality. Many of those who are against the bill seem to have pre-judged the government as guilty, and seem to have overlooked the fact that the present PII system does nothing to expose any government wrongdoing at all.

    Most people believe that verifiability and accountability are necessary to protect democracy from corruption. The principle of an independent judiciary, together with the parliamentary oversight that is part of the bill, allows the CMP proposals to provide verifiability and accountability. There is no principle of liberalism or democracy or justice that says that verifiability and accountability require public disclosure in every case.

    Well, it will take Jo time to re-organize her thoughts and emotions in the light of her new realisation. I for one am sure she will be stronger for having experienced this renewal, and hope that she will come back soon.

  • paul barker 10th Mar '13 - 8:37pm

    @ Eddie Sammon, you are quite wrong to lump together all the different divisions in the party into one “radicals vs moderates” split. I am right behind Clegg/The Leadership on The Economy & totally against on “secret courts”. This debate has actually united “liberal/social” factions.
    If some of the money paid out ends up in the hands of terrorists that will be the fault of the security services for putting themselves above British values & laws. At some point the whole dirty business will have to be subject to a public enquiry & hopefully prosecution of those invoved. We cant defeat terrorism by copying its methods & values.

  • Richard Dean

    I have more trust in the lawyers who know about this than your views . having read their reasoning I am in agreement

    The main thrust of the debate at the moment is though that the party has opposed this policy whenever asked and has been overruled by the leadership, as well as betraying voters who moved away from Labour because of these types of policies. The fact that Jack Straw is such a proponent is something that worries me!

    If the Liberal Democrats want to change their stance then be clearer what it is so we voters can decide what we want to do – will the party vote to repeal if they can as they actually oppose this new law or will they vote to support it if Labour come into power and try to repeal?

    I really have no idea what the party stands for now

  • Richard Dean 10th Mar '13 - 8:52pm

    Members of the party should really not be taking so much on trust. Really, they have a duty to think for themselves, to judge the arguments for themselves, not on the basis of trust at all, but on the basis of fairness and sense and reasonableness.

    Lawyers may be experts, and lawyers can be fair, but lawyers may also stand to gain or lose personally as a result of the existence or otherwise of laws. Trusting a lawyer is not something many people would recommend!

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Mar '13 - 8:55pm

    Hi Paul,

    I am fully aware this issue has united both broad divisions within the party. I am also aware there are many different opinions within the party on a wide range of issues. My criticism was the manifestation of a deeper frustration with the party. I also feel that many people’s anger of secret courts is also a manifestation of their broader frustrations within the party.

    You could say I was wrong to use this blog post to vent broader frustrations, but we all know that frustrations voiced on all posts are often a result of more general frustrations with the party. I, like many others, sometimes find it hard to treat these issues in isolation. However I will try to be more focused on the topic in the future.

  • Surely though Richard the fact that defendants cannot see the evidence presented against them is not the way a democracy should work. Thee security services and Government do not have a good track record on honesty in this regard have they!

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Mar '13 - 9:26pm

    “Surely though Richard the fact that defendants cannot see the evidence presented against them is not the way a democracy should work.”.

    This means you are advocating one of two different options: one: we tell them the secret evidence and give them a “fair trial” or two: we pay the terrorists money and forfeit the case, even though we may be innocent.

    A secret service would not be able to function if its secrets could be requested at any time, so this rules out option one in my book. And option 2: well funding our enemies hardly seems like a responsible thing to do.

    We know what you are against, but what are you for? Which option would you prefer? What do you think we should do if a terrorist group makes a civil claim against us for damages? I understand if you are against having a secret service, but that is a different question.

  • Richard Church 10th Mar '13 - 9:27pm

    Some of the comments here about us being better off with people like Jo Shaw are just offensive. For people like Jo this is a touchstone issue that determines their liberalism. I respect that, but it isn’t for me.

    We need to accept that a few hundred people discussing an emergency motion on a Sunday morning will not determine government policy. We cannot direct MP’s, they are not our delegates who conference can mandate. They are the representatives of our party, selected by our party and elected by their constituents to use their judgement. Conference decisions should influence their judgement, but not determine it.

    Inevitably people will get angry when conference decisions are not reflected in the way the leader or MP’s vote. There’s nothing new about that, its been true throughout the 35 years I have been a member of the party, and quite right too. Conference doesn’t run the country.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Mar '13 - 9:36pm

    “Some of the comments here about us being better off with people like Jo Shaw are just offensive.”

    Who cares? This is politics, you’ve got to have a thick skin. I didn’t personally attack her, but if she wishes to leave the party then we obviously weren’t right for her. I wish her all the happiness in the world!

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Mar '13 - 9:39pm


    You don’t half waffle. I agree with the party leadership and you don’t and nobody is right or wrong.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Mar '13 - 9:47pm

    Alex again,

    ” I had. In either case I might question the wisdom of arguing my corner at great length against all-comers, as it would serve no great purpose.”. You are basically saying people who have minority opinions shouldn’t speak out against the majority. Surely that is fundamentally illiberal. And don’t give me a 300 word philosophical essay in response.

  • Richard Church

    So who do the MPs respond to – yes their constituents.

    Can you remind me what the particular policies of the party that they stood for were on this subject(amongst many)? Did the MPs who voted for stand on a policy of secret courts or a view to dismantling certain of the protections that exist within current law.

    So who are the MPs responsive to in reality, their constituents (seems not as they made protecting civil liberties part of their platform), LD conference (clearly not), Coalition Agreement (this bit seems to be missing from it) or perhaps a tawdry little deal between Clegg, Alexander and their pals in Downing Street?

    So Conference should have no power over directing how MPs vote but it seems the Tory leadership can – interesting stance.

    Someone should tell your Party President as he seems to have voted the wrong way

  • Richard Dean 10th Mar '13 - 9:57pm

    In almost all, perhaps even all, cases, the defendant is the government. The litigant is not the defendant. The litigant will usually or always be an individual or group of individuals who are claiming compensation for a claimed wrong.

    As I understand it, the arrangement will be that the litigant – an individual or group – will present evidence of their claim in court, and the defendant – the government – will get to see that evidence. The CMP arrangement means that the government is then able to present evidence in defence. The litigant will then get to see a “gist” of the defence evidence. The bill tasks the judge with ensuring that justice is done, and although this may be open to interpretation, it likely means that the gist will need to be sufficient for the litigant to understand how to challenge it.

    I imagine, for example, if the litigant says she was run over by a car driven by an MI6 agent in Hamburg one morning, it might be a valid defence for the government agency to present evidence that she was actually attending an Al-Quaeda meeting in Exeter all that morning. There would likely be a national security issue involved, and there might be a danger that an intelligence source would be lost if the full information was disclosed. An argument would be put by the defendant, and the judge would decide. As I understand it, even if the judge decides that a CMP is to be granted, the litigant’s special advocate will see this evidence and be able to question it. The special advocate may even be able to go back to the litigant and ask for further evidence in support of her claim of being in Hamburg.

    There would obviously be potential for misuse of CMPs by the government, which is why the judges are also tasked with assessing the application for a CMP – it is not granted automatically – and why they must revoke the CMP if it later turns out that that revelation of the full defence evidence would not be a credible threat to national security.

    So it looks to me that the bill has been very well designed and written, and that any reasonable person should support it. The problem has not been the bill itself, but the unwillingness of the leadership to engage in the debate. If they had done so, the voices against would have not had such a free and paranoia-fuelled run at it.

  • There are some people the party will genuinely be better off without, such as those who joined or supported us as a generic protest “two fingers” at the establishment, rather than because they actually shared Lib Dem values. Jo Shaw does not fit this profile. She very much represented mainstream Lib Dem principles and will be sorely missed. Whether resigning was necessarily the best move is a matter for her own judgment, but certainly it’s more likely to get people’s attention over what should be a touchstone issue.

    Eddie Sammon is right that we have some significant divisions between different factions, but those divisions are mostly over economic matters. Labour and the Conservatives are more or less united on economics but are divided between liberal and authoritarian wings on social matters and civil liberties. We are the opposite – usually united in liberalism on social issues and civil liberties, but divided on the economy. Jo Shaw isn’t leaving a party that she disagrees with, she’s leaving a party that overwhelmingly agrees with her opposition to secret courts, but where the leadership is choosing to ignore grassroots opinion.

    Just like Paul Barker, I’m usually a loyalist, I’m pro-coalition, I think Nick Clegg is a very good party leader (better than Paddy, Charlie or Ming IMO). But if we don’t stand for civil liberties then what do we stand for? And if we don’t stand up for civil liberties who will?

  • The question is whether Jo Shaw’s resignation will just temporarily shock the membership, or whether it will galvanise them into taking action that the “leadership” (which has not led on this issue) cannot ignore.

  • Taking a view on this isn’t really about trusting lawyers IMHO. Rather its about what we know happens when the powers that be can operate for extended periods without scrutiny or proper oversight. Clegg is making a mistake. He should tell Labour and the Tories to collaborate on this as it matches their values. We get nothing for supporting this other than culpabilty when the first scandals happen and a strengthening of the idea that the three main parties are all the same. If this is a new kind of politics then I cant wait til we get back to the old fashioned politics where people have a clue what we stand for.

  • John Broggio 10th Mar '13 - 10:14pm

    @ Eddie SaMmon

    “This means you are advocating one of two different options: one: we tell them the secret evidence and give them a “fair trial” or two: we pay the terrorists money and forfeit the case, even though we may be innocent. A secret service would not be able to function if its secrets could be requested at any time, so this rules out option one in my book. And option 2: well funding our enemies hardly seems like a responsible thing to do.”

    I know this will be a rather quaint attitude to some but I happen to think that anyone is innocent of any charge (terrorism included) until found guilty. If we can’t prove someone to be guilty of terrorism, then we are not funding our “enemies” (although they may be pretty distasteful) & our agencies should not commit acts that leave them open to compensation. We can’t condemn terrorists for behaviour that our state agencies then indulge in; by doing otherwise, we lose all moral authority.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Mar '13 - 10:14pm

    Thanks Catherine for your thoughtful contribution.

  • Jo Shaw, and indeed, most Lib Dems, had assumed that there was a democratic thread between a conference vote, and the leadership of the party. The vote on secret courts has shown overwhelmingly, that that notion is dead.
    A conference vote means nothing.
    And not for the first time, there is a clear chasm between Lib Dem grass roots and party leadership. Some see Jo Shaw’s resignation as brave, and others as foolish, but in truth, where can you go, when you realise that democracy within the very core of your party has died?
    Sometimes you have to say, enough is enough. Jo Shaw did just that.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Mar '13 - 10:19pm


    Thanks too for your polite response. I am not fanatical about this legislation and respect people who disagree. My frustrations were a result of a wider battle I seem to go through on here against people who, in their own right, seem to disagree with everything the party is doing.

  • Richard Dean 10th Mar '13 - 10:36pm

    Why do people say the defendant doesn’t see the evidence? The defendant is the government, and does. It’s the litigant who doesn’t see the defence – or at least, only gets the gist of it.

    The judge is there to ensure that the gist contains enough information to be enable the litigant to challenge the defence. The litigant isn’t being accused – and it’s not a defence in law to accuse the other party of something.

  • @Richard Dean
    The ‘gist’ derived by a judge is not enough. Only when the FULL facts, are evident to BOTH parties, can a valid case be heard. Anything less, is open to corruption. And history shows that if corruption CAN infiltrate the process, then it WILL infiltrate the process.

  • Richard, if you dont know what a defendant is, perhaps you are “contributing” on the wrong thread.

  • Eddie Sammon
    “disagree with everything the party is doing”.
    The question then arises – “Who constitutes the party?” And, although we are well aware, as a party that supports “representative” democracy, that when an MP, or a Councillor, or an MEP, for that matter, is elected, they are not delegated by the party (or anyone else) to vote for particular courses of action etc, there is a clear presumption in all parts of the process that they will take great account of what has been said at appropriate levels in the party. A Lib Dem councillor, for instance, should have regard for (and be well aware of, for that matter)relevant decisions made at local party and branch level. If they consistently oppose such ideas, they should know that there is likely to be one outcome, ie deselection. AS liberals and democrats, we are often going to have different views, and sometimes against the stated “principles ” of the party. But to vote on a central principle as an (almost) united group against longstanding and deeply held principles is utterly wrong. As an action, this is worse than the tuition fee vote. With tuition fees it was unclear what our pledge about “opposing tuition fees” actually meant in practice, but with this, it is absolutely clear that our principles have always demanded a change in security service practices, and that is what our MPs should have supported. Recent events since 2001 have suggested that authorities are moving away from a Liberal / Lib Dem approach on this. It is not “supporting the party” (to use Eddie’s words) to vote the way the majority of our MPs did. It is opposing the party.

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 11th Mar '13 - 7:45am

    @ Richard Dean – “it’s not a defence in law to accuse the other party of something.”

    Not true. It is a partial defence in negligence to prove that the Claimant caused or contributed to their own losses.

  • Interesting image…


    In it the scales are equal, each case should be heard without prejudice and with full disclosure. We have seen remarkable miscarriages of justice in the criminal system where the state or it’s agents have withheld or manufactured information. This law allows the same in the civil system as the only people who may be able to refute the state’s evidence are the very ones not allowed to see it. It tips the scales and should never have been backed by a liberal party.

    It reminds me of seeing my late Fathers emotions during the Blair / Brown years. A lifelong Labour supporter he watched so many of his sacred cows be shunted off to the slaughterhouse whilst trying to stay loyal. By the end he talked about his party being stolen by “Tories in Red Rosettes”. I never had spectacles tinted by a lifetime of support and saw through the Blair agenda early on, in my view it was power for the sake of power. That said I would imagine that the majority of Labour members never agreed with Blair, never wanted a “new” in front of the word Labour and probably shared sacred cows with my Father.

    The question is what stops leaders, in any Party, ignoring the people who put them in their position. If whipping a vote against agreed Party policy required an immediate vote of confidence to be taken of all members would leaders be so brave to do so? They would probably survive the first and maybe the second time they did it. But imagine if Blair had had to face his members over Tuition fees ? It wouldn’t guarantee the leader would follow the line set by their party, but it would force them to choose the occasions where they didn’t very carefully, or try to change the mind of their members before charging ahead regardless.

  • Mack(Not a Lib DEm) 11th Mar '13 - 11:16am

    When you sup with the devil! If the Liberal Democrats had entered into “Confidence and Supply” they would have been able to protect their principles i.e., over the NHS, tuition fees and secret courts , voted down these egregious Tory policies and still have been able to claim that they were acting in the national interest. As it is, the perception is that the Lib Dems are the Tories’ puppets. The way things are going I suspect that if the Tories were now to embark on an adventure similar to the invasion of Iraq they’d have the majority support of Lib Dem MPs. Support from the Lib Dems for secret courts? Who would have believed it? No wonder the courageous PPC resigned.

  • Mike Falchikov 11th Mar '13 - 12:17pm

    Caron, l’m glad to see that like me, you’re not going anywhere. I share most people’s concern that we have been
    given no very convincing reason for supporting this measure and, given that it wasn’t in the coalition agreement, it’s hard to see why it seemed so important for MPs to vote for it – a case for constructive abstention maybe? (the good old Scottish not proven verdict?) At the same time, I’m not entirely convinced by Jo’s “dramatic” resignation – smacks a bit ofesture politics, since she must have known that there wasn’t going to be a sudden conversion in the Parliamentary Party to supporting the conference motion. I’m sure we will get the same scenario at Dundee later this week – and the same result, but I hope minus resignations.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Mar '13 - 12:42pm

    @George Kendall: I shouldn’t have put it in those exact terms but my feelings were that it was an overreaction and a bit attention seeking too. I have definitely misjudged the party’s sensitivity over this.

    @Martin Tod: I am not in the business of misleading anyone.

    @Tim13: points noted.

  • It seems to me that most people who oppose the Government’s proposals are conflating civil and criminal action. The proposed legislation will not change the situation of those whom the Government believes are involved in terrorist action. It was precisely because the last Labour Government was unwillingly to disclose certain security service activity to those accused of a terrorist offence that the Government introduced internment without trial, i.e. no one was actually subject to a criminal trial using evidence of which the defendant did not know the details. While the Coalition Government has amended the situation through the introduction of TPims, it has not eliminated the central dilemma, namely how does the state deal with an accused terrorist when the evidence comes predominantly from the security services?

    However, the latest legislation deals with a fundamentally different situation, namely how does the Government defend itself in a civil trial against an accusation that it, or its servants, has acted illegally – no individual is going to be convicted on the basis of “secret” evidence. The motivation of those who take such action against the Government is in practice likely to be two-fold. If the person has suffered personal damage then obviously there is a desire for financial compensation. The question then is: Should the Government simply pay up to get the case to go away? After all, this is often the approach that insurance companies adopt in other civil compensation claims. Those who oppose the present Government proposals should then admit that this is a price that they feel the Government should be willing to pay.

    However, sometimes the motivation of those making claims against the Government is to expose what they consider either criminal or at least immoral action. In this case, it is surely right to ask whether a civil action is the most appropriate mechanism, or should instead Parliament bring in measures to strengthen control of the security services and so avoid the services misusing the cloak of secrecy under which they operate.

  • Eddie, first, I cannot see what you mean by a battle for the ‘heart and soul’ of the party; the intent – conference’s stated policy – was overwhelmingly won by Jo and others. Second, I would suggest that centrist and radical are not opposites, but different dimensions of the same party and a ‘radical centre’ is exactly what Clegg, Shirley, the Limehouse declaration etc… advocate. Third, David Howarth rather neatly explained why claims that we would be ‘paying money to terrorists’ are nonsense in the debate – there are enough powers in other legislation to stop that happening… And fourth and finally, I would rather like to know if our security services are torturing people as they are doing it in my name.

    I have, sadly perhaps, never been more confident in saying that our party leadership is naive and foolish to succumb to the secret service line, our party on the other hand (and our conference) is legally aware, informed, and in the right.

  • Graham – you need to watch David Howarth’s speech as well ‘civil’ covers a whole range of issues that should be public and there are plenty of ways in which – without public trial – we can control the money of terrorists. (Read as: No-one will be paid if we don’t want them to be.)

  • “It seems to me that most people who oppose the Government’s proposals are conflating civil and criminal action.”

    That error has occasionally been made (by supporters of the proposals, as well as opponents), but if you really think that you are only demonstrating how little of the discussion you have followed.

    What mystifies me is why people think injustice should be acceptable in civil cases, so long as criminal cases are not affected. What kind of an argument is that?

  • I have found the comments here on the ‘secret courts’ issue to be very interesting and stimulating – from all sides of the argument. It does occur to me, however, that whatever views are expressed here and whatever their merit, we can be sure that those opinions will make no difference to the Parliamentary Liberal Democrats.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Mar '13 - 2:12pm

    Henry, I have already made clear that I was referring to the wider division in the party when I mentioned the “battle for the heart and soul of the party”. I have already said I am fully aware that both broad divisions in the party oppose secret courts. Stop trying to take my words and frame them to mean something else.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Mar '13 - 2:22pm

    Or indeed read my previous posts before asking me more questions. Thanks.

  • Ah, sorry Eddie – apologies for the misunderstanding on my part and many thanks for taking this so graciously and, indeed, gracefully. I hope you will accept that I was not consciously ‘trying to take [your] words and frame them to mean something else’ so apologies for that misunderstanding.

    My point on centrists and radicals stands: I do not see the broad division you cite between radical and centre. Why can’t we have the radical centre (which has certainly in the past been backed by both Clegg and the Limehouse Declaration) and remain as liberals.

    [Incidentally, to offer some reassurance, I am certainly not one who disagrees with everything the party’s MPs do.]

  • “you need to watch’s David Howarth’s speech”

    I would gladly do so if someone would care to direct me to it.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Mar '13 - 4:10pm

    Sorry from myself Henry, I realised after I said it that you would not be trying to frame my words to mean something else.

    The radical centre is a fine idea but I think we haven’t yet got it right in practice. It is an interesting debate to have another time though. 🙂

  • Richard Dean 11th Mar '13 - 5:09pm

    Duh! The defendant is the government. It deserves to be able to defend itself.

    I suspect that party membership thinks the defendant is the person who claims to have been wronged. That is incorrect, though it is an understandable confusion. The person who claims to have been wronged might once have been a defendant, but the present discussion is about case where this person is now the accuser. The person is accusing the government, and the existential purpose of the court is to arrive at a fair decision of whether or not this is so.

    The principle of fairness requires us to allow the government an opportunity to defend itself. The purpose of national security is to preserve freedom, and this purpose requires that some work be secret, so the principle of freedom requires that, in some cases, openness is not appropriate.

  • @Richard Dean
    I would doubt anyone disputes the Government’s (or any other body or individual) right to defend themselves. I am not a lawyer, but surely it is also the right of the party bringing the claim to rebut that defence. If they do not know the details surely this is impossible in some circumstances and justice will be denied???

  • David Allen 11th Mar '13 - 6:22pm

    Excuse me if I’m being thick. But can I go back to first principles, and see if I can work this out?

    The supposition is: People are suing the government for compensation. They are claiming ill-treatment or worse. The government has a fantastic rebuttal up its sleeve, but, not one that it can afford to make public. Now, what sort of rebuttal might that be?

    Possibility A: “We can prove that what we did wasn’t ill-treatment, it was within the rules”.

    Well, but, if that’s the rebuttal – then surely it can easily be presented in open court?

    Possibility B: “This is what we did. It was sort of like torture-ish, but, well, it could have been worse.”

    Well, but, if that’s the rebuttal, such as it is, are we Lib Dems actually voting in favour of covering up for past torture, and thereby helping to make a future continuation of the same policy more likely?

    Possibility C: “Look, we tortured this guy, but, let me tell you what sort of a guy he really is. When you’ve seen that, you will be happy to bend all the rules so as to make sure he never gets any compensation.”

    It seems to me that this is by far the most plausible of the possibilities. But since when did we deny justice to somebody just because they themselves had committed a crime? Isn’t it outrageous that we should be legislating to permit possibility C?

    Or am I being thick and missing something? If so, would the defenders of this legislation like to make it very clear what that is?

  • Richard Dean 11th Mar '13 - 6:31pm

    I agree, Steve, I’m not a lawyer either, but I have looked at the bill itself and some of the Hansard. I’m sure you’re correct that the claimant surely needs to be able to rebut. I expect this will be possible because the claimant gets given a summary of the defence, and part of the judge’s job will be to make sure that the gist is sufficient for the purposes of rebuttal.

    That is not perfect, of course, but it is arguably better than the present system in which the government cannot offer any defence at all. It is also arguably not better. The question is not a matter of principle, but of balance. Given that justice cannot in these cases be both done and seen to be done, which is best:

    Justice done but not seen?
    Everything seen but justice sometimes not done?

    Different people can have different views, and some people seem to be arguing that a third possibility exists – justice sometimes not done and not seen. Personally I have more faith in the integrity of an independent judiciary. But anyway, the bill includes active scrutiny by a special parliamentary committee for just that purpose, to check that the system works properly.

    So, like many people I talk to who just hear the TV news and don’t read Hansard, I wonder why the LibDems are agonizing about this instead of getting on with fixing the economy.

  • Richard Dean 11th Mar '13 - 6:35pm

    David Allen’s three possibilities do tend to demonstrate the erroneous thinking in the anti camp.

    Possibility A does not need a CMP, it can be done in open court
    Possibility B won’t get a CMP from a judge, there’s no national security issue involved
    Possibility C is not relevant, because it is not a defence in UK law that the other guy is a bad guy

    So to answer your question, David Allen, yes, you are being thick, and missing the whole thing.

  • Richard, I think that the government is capable of defending itself under the current laws. I doubt that any compensation money has significantly funded terrorism, but I’m certain that introducing more secrecy into proceedings acts as a recruiting aid for terrorists, especially domestic terrorists.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Mar '13 - 7:31pm

    @David Allen: you have made some interesting points but I think there is a possibility D which explains why many favour the bill:

    D: This bill is about giving evidence in private if its disclosure would threaten national security. By pure logic opposing the bill threatens national security and in my opinion this should be among the first duties of any government.

    This does however allude to a larger debate which is the practices of our secret service. I would like the broad principle of the bill to be implemented followed up by a larger debate about the practices of our secret service.

  • Richard Dean 11th Mar '13 - 7:38pm

    Alistair. The government cannot defend itself under the current laws in some cases – cases where their defence would require them to use information whose exposure would endanger national security.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Mar '13 - 7:43pm

    @ Martin Tod: I have read the link you posted and I still do not believe I have been misled. I don’t wish to look into the matter further at this moment in time.

  • Sorry Richard, but you what if your rebuttal relies on details? Then Justice is neither done or seen to be done. Justice must be blind not claimants..

  • Richard Dean 11th Mar '13 - 9:06pm

    That’s right Steve, it’s a matter of making a balanced choice in a situation where no arrangement is perfect. Like many human situations, the very worst you can do is make it a matter of blind cold principle.

  • In that case Richard the balance should favour the party willing to make full disclosure. Justice is supposed to be blind, hence the statue.

  • Richard Dean 11th Mar '13 - 9:49pm

    You are willing to allow an injustice to be done simply because one party is restricted to full disclosure only to a judge? Would a similar cold inhuman principle apply generally, to all civil and criminal cases? Well, that’s one choice of balance, other choices are possible too, within the same principles.

    Justice is blind as to pre-judging innocence or guilt, not to the realities of complex world – quite the opposite, justice has to be very aware of those realities, because otherwise it will get fooled and become unjust. That appears to be what happened, with the government unjustly unable to defend itself. That is what the bill aims to correct.

  • The simple counter to that Richard is that you are happy to allow an injustice to be done because one side is not allowed access to information.

    The Judge may see everything but that does not help the claimant, how many cases are won or lost on small but pertinent details?

    Remember this is likely to be information from the same government agencies that assured us that there were WMD in Iraq. And it will not always be a Government that will include Lib Dems, this power will be provided to the type of politician who took that base information and “sexed it up” to claim that they could be deployed in 45 minutes.

    If the Government cannot allow information to be aired in open court and subject to appropriate challenge and scrutiny it should chose to defend claims without recourse to such information.

  • OK Richard Dean, if my three suggested possible government positions are all nonsense and I am deeply thick, pray tell me what a superior being like you might suggest could possibly be the government position?

  • @Catherine: You and I are exactly the same it seems, even ‘loyalists’ like us have been rocked by this decision. I think the worst part of this is that the party leadership has tried quite hard to make something fair of this mess on the inside, but kept getting defeated at every turn. The problem is that they have failed completely to communicate this to the party at large and in fact many regards, their actions on this issue have shown often but contempt for the wider party’s concerns. Not a helpful position to take on such an emotive issue.

    @Eddie: You seem to believe that a scumbag forfeits all rights to justice, that sort of misses the point of open, impartial and fair courts. Your right compensation, like many other rights, is not qualified on you being a good person, even if you are a scumbag of the worst kind, that does not mean you are not allowed to make a claim for compensation in a fair and open court. Yes, this means terrorists and other disputable types may get compensation, but they may also diverse it. If our secret service were not so willing to let themselves get dragged into issues of torture, may be this would not be an issue at all.

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Mar '13 - 6:36pm

    Liberal Al, I believe in striking the right balance between civil liberties and national security. I clearly strike this balance at a different place to you so let’s just agree to disagree.

  • JOHN LEFLEY 12th Mar '13 - 7:31pm

    Mike Falchikov – good to be in touch again, but this time over the ether! I was in Edinburgh at the weekend visiting Marjorie, who is now in Murrayfield House NH. Love to you both!

    I know Jo Shaw well, and she was a wonderful candidate here in Holborn & St Pancras. I’ve posted comments on another thread, and will try not to repeat myself. Over 50+ years I’ve met many of the “great and good” of the Party, some of them did not deserve that accolade! But Jo certainly does – she takes the Party’s principles very seriously and she rightly sees this as a fundamental breach.

    Not being a lawyer I don’t fully understand the background, but I wonder if Jo’s decision was maybe too hasty? The Bill is sure to be amended in the Lords, and will return to the Commons. At that point LD MPs will then have to vote on the Lords’ amendments, which are likely to be more liberal in nature. If the majority of them vote against them Jo may well be justified in resigning.

    At that point our MPs will have to remember that this has nothing to do with the Coalition. I would hope that most will vote against, and they will be joined by many liberal minded Tories and Labour – but not enough, I fear! I hope that then Jo will rejoin the Party – I so much want her to be fighting here in 2015!

    I was very disappointed to see Ming – a hugely respected Scottish advocate – in favour of the Bill. I must look at his arguments, which fly against the principles which persuaded both of us to join the Party 50 years ago. At stake here are the rights of the individual against an over-bearing state, and both Liberals and liberals have no choice!

    Jo, we will miss you – but I hope we can welcome you back very soon!

  • Kevin McNamara 12th Mar '13 - 7:34pm

    so disappointed that so many of you have bought into the national security line. unreal.

  • Richard Dean 12th Mar '13 - 7:50pm

    Steve Way, the injustice of your position is clearly shown in your pre-judgment that the government is guilty. No sensible conclusion can be drawn from such an argument.

    David Allen, thanks, but I am not a superior being, though I may perhaps be unusually humble. My stated position is clear from what I have written, and I am encouraged to believe I am correct because no one has yet successfully challenged it in fact or logic.

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Mar '13 - 8:03pm

    I have not “bought into” anything Kevin, I am an independent thinker. They aren’t just doing this for a laugh to wind up Liberals. National Security is a real issue and if you think the bill should not go ahead then that is fine but please show some tolerance to other people’s views.

  • David Evans 12th Mar '13 - 8:32pm


    “D: This bill is about giving evidence in private if its disclosure would threaten national security. By pure logic opposing the bill threatens national security and in my opinion this should be among the first duties of any government. ”

    Your pure logic only works if you accept that the person or organisation telling you it would threated national security always tells you the truth.

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Mar '13 - 8:36pm

    OK David, I don’t want to discuss the issue anymore.

  • In America, during the Bush years, they had “terrorist threat alerts” on the TV every day, much like we have the weather report. It was a traffic light system, to remind everyone about terrorism, and how very important it was to go to war in Iraq.

  • @Richard Dean
    I do not pre judge the government, my point has always been to allow the facts to be seen and an appropriate judgement given. Yours is for one side to be allowe to restrict information. I have merely given a very clear example from 10 years ago where the very government agencies we are talking about we’re wrong, and the government of the day misrepresented the data provided to them.

  • We really need the video of David Howarth’s speech up here: He is both an expert and a liberal and neatly explained many of the problems the proponents of secret courts highlight.

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Mar '13 - 12:52am

    I would be open to changing my mind but the truth is I don’t really care about this bill. You might say that’s not very “liberal”, but I’m just a human being.

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