Secret courts: another prominent Lib Dem resigns

On Sunday, former Lib Dem parliamentary candidate and Federal Executive member Jo Shaw — the moving force behind LibDemsAgainstSecretCourts — announced her resignation from the party while proposing the motion opposing the extension of Closed Material Procedures (CMPs, aka secret courts) that was overwhelmingly carried by members.

Her resignation followed the announcement by Dinah Rose QC that she was resigning from the party in protest at the party leadership’s decision to back secret courts. That came the same day as Observer columnist Henry Porter, a long-time friend to the Lib Dems, publicly denounced what he termed Nick Clegg’s “astonishing breach of trust and denial of principle” on this issue.

philippe sandsAnd then today, they have been joined by prominent lawyer Philippe Sands, who writes in today’s Guardian:

Secrecy begets secrecy. I have listened to all the arguments, and concluded this is a compromise too far, neither necessary nor fair at this time. The point has been made eloquently in recent days by Dinah Rose QC and Jo Shaw. Their principled arguments have long had my full support and so I have joined them in resigning from the Liberal Democrats. I have done so with regret, given the courageous positions adopted on these issues by Charles Kennedy, Menzies Campbell and Nick Clegg in the past. I still hope that the views of the membership might yet prevail, before the bill passes into law. If not, the Liberal Democrats will have lost integrity on one issue that has truly distinguished them from other parties, and on which they can rightly claim to have made a real difference.

Sadly Nick Clegg seems to have moved beyond listening mode on this issue. That’s bad for our justice system, bad for our party — and it will work out badly for him, too.

Update: Cory Doctorow, co-editor of the weblog Boing Boing, has also quit the party: LibDems leave over support for secret trials; I resign from the party.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • It’s not Cameron who is the heir to Blair but Clegg. Like Blair he ignores the wishes of his party when it suits, like Blair he answers the questions asked by his own party only where it suits his own agenda, like Blair he ignores it when those of principle leave or resign, and like Blair he talks choice and liberty but acts like an authoritarian.

  • Helen Dudden 12th Mar '13 - 9:07am

    Very recently I wrote on another subject, international law and the All party Group on Child Abduction. There is just one member from the Lib Dems in this group, 10 Labour MP’s , 9 Conservatives, and one Lib Dem.

    This is a serious too, the right to a voice in the House of Commons, I did complain to Nick Cleggs office. Human rights was the reason I had been a member of the party for many years.

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Mar '13 - 10:26am

    I wonder whether Clegg read the details of this Bill? Did he take the Tories on their word as ‘decent fellows?’ He does have form on this (Health, Education for instance).

    It’s always useful – in fact crucial – to have a leader with well-tuned political antennae. Sadly, for all his talents, Nick lacks this crucial skill in my view.

  • I agree that Clegg & the leadership have got it wrong on this but if these resignations are a concerted attempt to force the leaderships hands it could backfire horribly. Resignations acheive nothing but to reduce the number of voices on the side of liberty & it sets a horrible precedent. Suppose this tactic was used on an issue where the membership were divided, we could get competitive resignations on both “sides”.
    I appeal to anyone thinking about resignation – please dont.

  • “At least I’d heard that Jo Shaw was a party member before her publicity stunt.”

    Well sneered. How gallant.

  • jenny barnes 12th Mar '13 - 1:33pm

    It’s like being in an abusive relationship. Oh, he’s nice really. He promised never to do it again. And then it happens again, and again, and again. Sooner or later, you either leave, or become a punchbag.

  • Some comments from Liberty on the resignations:

    Shami Chakrabarti on Dinah Rose and Jo Shaw:

    Ian McDonald on Philippe Sands and Cory Doctorow:

  • I’m not the resigning sort – but it’s one issue that has tried me sorely. Ignoring the overwhelming vote at conference does remove some of the “Dem”.
    I did respond to the “Letter from the Leader” and received a long and reasoned comment and explanation about the situation. I still don’t understand because it has not been explained why these civil cases will win without credible evidence. If the defence is that, say rendition was justified because the claimant background was suspect, then that is no justification for legislation. Perhaps someone can point me to these examples / justifications.

  • David Evans 12th Mar '13 - 7:18pm


    “It’s like being in an abusive relationship. Oh, he’s nice really. He promised never to do it again. And then it happens again, and again, and again. Sooner or later, you either leave, or become a punchbag.”

    … or you stay, join a mutual support group and fight back. That way you get to keep the home and the MPs – or as Nick calls them, the kids.

  • Richard Dean 12th Mar '13 - 8:16pm

    It’s time LibDems woke up to reality, abusive relationships get a lot worse than the genteel stuff being discussed here

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 12th Mar '13 - 9:44pm

    Dear Colleagues,

    As a former police officer I implore you all to fight tooth and nail to remove the likelihood of secret courts expanding.

    Trial before ones peers is the basis of British justice, and long may this remain so.

    Leaving justice to the police and security services will lead us down a path towards even more miscarriages of justice.

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera
    English Party Diversity Champion
    EMLD Vice Chair

  • “Trial before ones peers is the basis of British justice, and long may this remain so.”

    Only a handful (proportionally) of trials are before your peers (a jury). And virtually no civil trials are

  • David Evans 13th Mar '13 - 9:16am

    Good point Peter,

    The question is does the leadership want this sort of input, or just a compliant group of ‘trusted confidants’.

  • Charles Beaumont 13th Mar '13 - 12:28pm

    The real problem here is a lack of security service experience. Other than Paddy are there any former members of the security services in a position to advise the leadership? As a result we end up with this kind of nonsense were the likes of MI5 scare the leadership into believing that the country will collapse into anarchy if we don’t introduce secret courts.

  • We should not forget that one factor which made Jo and her supporters so annoyed and frustrated was the refusal of Nick Clegg to meet with them and discuss the issue after the motion was so overwhelmingly passed at the Autumn conference.
    Also, why didn’t Nick take part in the debate ? I remember Ming Campbell as our leader taking part in a defence debate on Trident and I think many people who did not agree with his views, nevertheless understood and respected him for that.

  • Roger Roberts 14th Mar '13 - 12:19pm

    I agree with a previous comment resignations are futile stay and fight . What worries me more is that this party has always decided policy at its conferences. The members are the ones that say in which direction the party will go not the leadership. The party also elects its leader and can also vote to getrid of the person.
    Any leader that thinks that they can ignore party policy in my humble opinion does so at their peril. We have a great an honourable tradition in the party going many many years of supporting civil liberties and of fighting for justice. In this day and age moving to the Stalinist tradition of justice is defintely not the way to go.
    Nick I dont know what your reasons are for going along with the secret courts but if you want to alienate large parts of this party you are going the right way about it. Also i think we should applaude those MP’s in the party who had the courage to vote against the bill and not be like sheep that the rest of our MP’s were

  • I sometimes wonder if people have read what’s in this bill rather than take the word of the ‘unbiaised’ Guardian or 38 degrees? To read some of the comments one might believe that criminal trials were to be held in secret, which is emphatically not the case. Whilst I know that it still needs changes before it becomes acceptable to our party, the process in parliament has still some way to go.

    Having done some research, I discover that the current procedure for dealing with this type of civil court hearings, where national security is thought to be at risk, is for a Government Minister to issue a Public Interest Immunity Certificate (PII), which if accepted by the court – and they have been more often than not – then the state’s evidence is only seen by the judge and not by the complainant or defendent. In effect then if a PII is issued we have a secret hearing from which the defence is excluded.

    In addition at both Special Immigration Tribunals and Control Order Hearings – which are in effect Secret Courts – , the defendent is excluded from the hearing when the government gives evidence and although the Special Advocate, who represent the defendent can attend the hearings both open and closed they cannot discuss the evidence raised with their clients. So their clients are denied the chance to counter accusations against them by the secret services.

    The effect of the PII procedure, which ministers are now reluctant to use, is that rather than let matters be dealt with in open court, the government very often settles the case without a hearing and gags the complainant from speaking about the settlement. This of course means that there is no justice at all because the person or persons accused of wrong doing never gets to present their case and the courts never get to judge whether there was a case to answer in the first place.

    Now I accept fully that secret evidence and secret judgements are illiberal and that a better way should be found to deal with those aspects.

    I challenge those people who are so against these proposals to tell us how they would tackle the genuine problem of having secret intelligence services giving evidence in court, when there is a risk to people’s lives if they do so?

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Mar '13 - 1:13pm

    Thank God, someone else from the level-headed club has emerged.

  • Whether or not one agrees with Mickft it is welcome to be reminded that this subject is not a simple no-brainer. As for resignations from the party, I for one find it depressing that someone like Philippe Sands for whom I have enormous respect – and (Dave Page ) he has spoken as a party member on a previous Lib Dem conference platform -should find it necessary to resign on this one issue from a party which is streets ahead of any other on human rights issues. The first section of Philippe’s Guardian article is an impressive list of Lib Dem achievements and campaigns on such issues. What other party are he and the other resignees going to support now – or are they in effect distancing themselves from the political system which, whether they like it or not, sets the legislative agenda ?

  • Roger Roberts/Wales 15th Mar '13 - 4:34pm

    Two Roger Roberts’ ! The reasoned argument of the one from England needs serious consideration.Is the whole “secret courts”proposal, however well explained by its supporters, just a step too far for those of us who believe that the matter of civil liberties is just too precious to be undermined in any way ?

  • I have been a member of the LibDems for a while. Originally I am from South Africa and have been imprisoned twice without trial on the basis of secret evidence from security agents.

    Many in the party are too willing to accept the good intentions of government officials and security agents.

    A liberal seeks to enhance the freedom of the individual and limit the reach of the state. Secret courts do not do this. Look at Lord Carlyle’s record and think. It is both to quote and contradict Nick Clegg, both abhorrent and illiberal.

    For those who are up to mischief, do the police work and charge them in an open court. We have been involved in a disgraceful kidnapping industry called extraordinary rendition because of the secrecy.

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