The Independent View: Why Lib Dems should vote against the Secret Courts Bill on Tuesday

On Tuesday, Liberal Democrat conference will debate a Bill which strikes at the heart of liberal principles. The Justice and Security Bill will effectively put ministers and government officials above the law. If this is to be avoided, it is essential that Liberal Democrats vote for the motion, unamended.

Under the Bill, the state will be able to kick anyone bringing a case against them out of court simply by claiming ‘national security’ is at risk – a claim which has been used to cover up Government involvement in torture and rendition all too often during the ‘War on Terror’.

Politicians will be able to shut the courtroom doors to press and public alike, and present one-sided evidence to the judge, free of effective challenge. Worst of all, in a case between the citizen and the state, the citizen could lose without even knowing why, or being able to see what evidence had been used against them. This is surely a red line in our justice system which must not be crossed.

Well-respected ministers have given reassurances that this Bill will not be used to cover up anything that would previously have been made public, and that it will only be used in a miniscule number of cases, but it is simply impossible for them to ensure that future governments will keep to these promises.

The fact is that this Bill will enable ministers to push a wide range of cases – from victims of state torture to soldiers who have suffered as a result of Government negligence – into secret courts, where it will be much easier for the state to win and to avoid airing its dirty laundry in public.

Just over a year ago, Nick Clegg rightly said, “You shouldn’t trust any government – including this one.” It would be wise to heed his advice, and to ignore the siren calls of Ken Clarke, who asks people to back this Bill on the grounds that he himself is “an instinctive liberal”. What is needed is close scrutiny of this Bill, and what it would allow. And what must always be at the forefront of our minds is when deciding whether or not to back it is what it would allow our politicians and officials to do – not what it is they say they intend to do with it.

It is entirely possible that this Bill is a genuine attempt to shine a light into the dark recesses of the state, but the fact is that that it would in fact allow the government to do the opposite, throwing a shroud of secrecy over a wide range of civil court proceedings. The Government needs to go back to the drawing board on this one – a vote in favour of the motion as tabled on Tuesday would be a valuable step towards this.

 

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

* Clare Algar is the Executive Director of Reprieve, a human rights NGO.

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4 Comments

  • Richard Dean 23rd Sep '12 - 3:34pm

    Government re-assurances are clearoly of no value here. Furthermore, if we have un-regulted secret trials, we loise the moral authority to critcisise other nations who may not have the same scruples. However, there are probably cases where national security really is at risk, and of so, there needs to be a way that evidence can be presented and challenged.

    Is it possible for there to be an independent hearing into whether evidence falls into this category? – a hearing heard by judges that are not required to consider the case itself, just the nature of the security risk associated with the giving of the evidence?

    Is it also possible for evidence of this nature to be given in such a way that it cxan be challenged without compromising national security? Again, some type of separate court perhaps?

    I imagine that, given such things as bombings and possibilities of criminal and terrrist future uses of biological weapons too against the population, and the like, people in general would have lots of sympathy for secret courts. Providing the kinds of alternatives I suggest – giving the independent judiciary a role – might help satisfy those people while at the same time avoiding the dangers you rightly identify.

  • Gary Bowman 24th Sep '12 - 2:31pm

    Justice has to be done, please, for the people suffering in silence, praying that their country will protect them, for the genuine cases of abuse.

  • Maurice Frank 26th Sep '12 - 11:53am

    Right, here is a reasonably stunning piece of info that has been under 13 years of silence from the high political world and the media. Everyone genuine in what they say against this bill must take up a democratic advance in the nature of courts, that I simply term “the court change”, as a way of fighting it.

    In 13 years nobody has ever offered any arguments against the reasons why the court change is real. But no big NGO that could make big use of it has ever been willing to go first in saying that it is real and telling its supporters about it.. That grim lack of ethicality in even our NGOs’ political culture has let the court change’s hushing up continue. I notified the court change directly to the European Court of Human Rights during the public appeal campaign against the decision it still made regardless on Monday on the deportations to America.

    The court change is: in all the Council of Europe member countries since 7 July 1999, all court or other legal decisions are open-endedly faultable on their logic, instead of final. “Open to open-ended fault finding by any party”.

    it is on publicly traceable record through petitions 730/99 in the European, PE6 Scottish, parliaments. The court change follows from my European Court of Human Rights case 41597/98 on a scandal of insurance policies requiring evictions of unemployed people from hotels. This case referred to violation of civil status from 13 May 1997, yet the admissibility decision claimed the last stage of decision taken within Britain was on 4 Aug 1995. ECHR has made itself illegal, by issuing a syntactically contradictory nonsense decision that reverses the physics of time, and calling it final. This violates every precedent that ECHR member countries’ laws recognise the chronology of cause and effect, in court evidence.

    Hence, the original ECHR is now, and since then, an illegal entity, because it broke all preexisting precedent that courts recognise the correct order of time, and it claimed a power of finality to issue decisions whose content is a factual impossibility. But for the original ECHR to lapse in this way, also breaches the European Convention’s section on requiring an ECHR to exist. Hence, this section requires the member countries to create an ECHR that removes the original’s illegality. The source of the illegality being left standing was in the claimed power of final decision. Hence, the only way the new court can remove the illegality is by being constituted such that its decisions are not final. If decisions are not final, the only other thing they can be is open-endedly faultable.

    This requires the courts in the member countries to be compatible with open-ended decisions and with doing in-country work connected to them. Hence, legal decisions within the member countries’ courts also cease to be final and become open-ended, in all the Council of Europe countries.

    The concept of “leave to appeal” is abolished and judges no longer have to be crawled to as authority figures. Every party in a case is automatically entitled to lodge a fault finding against any decision, stating reasons. These are further faultable in return, including by the original fault finder, stating reasons. A case reaches its outcome when all fault findings have been answered or accepted.

    The first fault finding to make, is that all unaffordable legal costs are abolished by how they conflict with the world human rights principle of access to justice. Folks have waited centuries for a chance to say this !!! See how far reaching is the reform the court change can do once it starts?

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