Scottish Conference overwhelmingly rejects secret courts

Only two members of the Scottish Liberal Democrat conference voted against a motion opposing the introduction of secret courts. One of them was Jim Wallace, whose name is on the Government’s bill.

The leadership didn’t put up a fight, which in some ways is more frustrating. Why won”t they come forward and engage in the debate? It’s clear they have no intention in taking the slightest bit of notice of the vote, or the previous votes carried by enormous majorities at Federal Conference.

There was only one speech against and that was from someone who opposed secret courts in principle but felt that it would turn our MPs into hypocrites if they had to go out on the doorsteps with a manifesto promising to repeal something they had voted for. A situation of their own making, some might say.

There were some powerful speeches in favour: Hannah Bettsworth talked about how our government might start receiving the sorts of letters she writes to foreign governments about Amnesty; Katy Gordon, not a natural rebel, said that she could not support secret courts; Kavya Kaushik said the measure went against our core principles on civil liberties, protecting the vulnerable and internal member democracy; Hugh Waterfield reminded Conference (jokingly, I hope) what happens when leaders abuse power, with a reference to Charles I.

I will post my own speech later, but here’s a snippet:

The fundamental principle behind the secret courts provision is so fundamentally wrong that it is impossible to amend it to make it acceptable. I think the best you can say is that they’ve turned it from a cowp to a midden. Mike Crockart is unable to speak in this debate because he has been committed for some time to another event at the Conference but I have his permission to tell you that he is fully supportive of this motion. Conference, there are some things you just can’t polish. This legislation should never have seen the light of day, and certainly never with a Liberal Democrat’s name on it.

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

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  • Eddie Sammon 16th Mar '13 - 12:44pm

    I’ll say it again: disagree with secret courts if you like, but at least show respect for the argument in favour of this bill. I know the leadership haven’t shown much respect back, but two wrongs don’t make a right.

  • David Evans 16th Mar '13 - 1:04pm


    But in this case it seems there wasn’t an argument put forward in favour of the bill!

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Mar '13 - 1:29pm

    I know, I would say it seems both parties have stopped listening to each other. I’m hoping Nick says something in his letter from the leader.

  • David Evans 16th Mar '13 - 1:45pm

    I’m not sure it can be portrayed as both sides having stopped listening. It seems one side, our leaders, don’t want to talk. A letter from Nick would be a small first in the right direction. But even that seems to be a long way off, and would have to be followed by a lot, lot more.

  • Richard Dean 16th Mar '13 - 1:50pm

    An interesting thing that was said in Parliament was that the US wouldn’t pass us intelligence if we didn’t have safeguards in place regarding leaks of sensitive information. If true, that suggests the conflict is between freedom and openness – freedom needs to be defended and if the US intelligence is valuable we’d possibly be risking lives if we chose not to have it.

    It’s difficult for people to recognise conflicts like this between fundamental principles, let alone find solutions. I wouldn’t expect a conference to be willing to do so – much easier for delegates to simply turn a blind eye – but I would certainly expect elected MPs to do so – they have the responsibility of government and therefore need to be practical.

  • Richard Dean 16th Mar '13 - 1:54pm

    … and the action of MPs in avoiding debate is just that – a practical solution. It allows principled people to feel good about themselves, while simultaneously getting on with the practical job of improving justice.

  • “An interesting thing that was said in Parliament was that the US wouldn’t pass us intelligence if we didn’t have safeguards in place regarding leaks of sensitive information.”

    No doubt they wouldn’t. But of course we already have such safeguards. If anyone does want to advance that argument (and neither Ming Campbell nor Lord McNally mentioned it), then obviously they need to explain how it would be possible for sensitive information to get past the existing public interest immunity system.

  • It is very heartening to be reminded — both in light of the Westminster leadership’s actions, and the words of some commenters on this site — that the Liberal Democrats still have a solid base of people committed to liberal principles of freedom and anti-authoritarianism. The spectre of the three largest parties in the UK being fully committed to authoritarian principles of citizen surveillance, summary injustice, and arbitrary deprivation of rights cannot fail to make me shudder. And yet there are some for whom this possibility elicits not merely a shrug, but a hearty assent to the idea that the people can be deprived of their right to confront the government.

  • Paul McKeown 16th Mar '13 - 4:26pm

    What is this rubbish about Home Rule for the Northern Isles?

  • Richard Dean 16th Mar '13 - 8:25pm

    The intelligence-sharing issue is mentioned, amongst other places, in

    > Lord McNally’s article, end of paragraph 4

    > David Howarth’s critique, bullet point 4

    > The Cabinet Office paper (Implied by Reason 3)

    and I’m pretty certain I heard Ming Campbell refer to it in parliament, which I watched on TV, though it was a very short sentence almost hidden by preceding and succeeding sentences on different topics.

  • Richard

    “Lord McNally’s article, end of paragraph 4”

    If you read that, you’ll see that what it actually says is that the public interest immunity system – that is the current system, the one that is already in force – “is necessary to protect both our intelligence and our intelligence-sharing relationships”.

    That is exactly the point I am making. The public interest immunity system already protects sensitive information. Thank you for pointing out that Lord McNally accepts that.

  • Richard Dean 16th Mar '13 - 10:09pm

    Maybe you need to read the subsequent paragraph Chris

  • Richard

    The following paragraph points out that because sensitive information is protected by the PII system, in some cases the government has to settle out of court.

    We’ve been over this a number of times already, haven’t we?

  • The US government only complained after we asked them to. If they were so concerned it is hard to believe they would wait for an official request:

    The Foreign Office (FCO) solicited the letter from the US State Department that forced British judges to block the disclosure of CIA files documenting the torture of a British resident held in Guantánamo Bay, the Observer can reveal.

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