Monday, January 07, 2013

Where now on secret courts? #no2secretcourts

Just before Christmas Jo Shaw wrote an update on the Lib Dems against Secret Courts campaign on Lib Dem Voice. For me, the most remarkable thing was that Nick Clegg had refused to meet those running the campaign.  I really don't see what such an attitude could gain, save to estrange the leadership from the party at a time when we all need to be working together.

This is an issue on which the party is fairly united. It's not an NHS Bill which gets the social liberals up in arms while the others don't care. On this one, the activists speak with one voice. Conference, the sovereign policy making body in the party has overwhelmingly rejected Part II of the Justice and Security Bill. Those advising Nick may well think that the party can just be ignored on this because the electorate don't give much of a stuff about secret courts. However, if he ignores activists on this, he stores up a whole host of future problems for himself. More than any other party, the Liberal Democrat leader needs his troops out on the streets, talking to voters and delivering leaflets. By and large, we do these things - and fewer people are doing a lot more these days. They are just getting on with campaigning on the ground. They are more likely to feel motivated to do more if their views are treated with respect by the leadership.

It's not surprising that Liberal Democrats strongly oppose a measure which would prevent parties to a court case being shown the evidence against them. It offends every principle of justice. Your normal legal proceedings involve transparency of the evidence, with both sides being able to cross-examine each other.

It is really important that the only liberal party in this country emerges from this period in government with its civil liberties credentials intact. That record is in danger of being severely blemished if Part II of the Justice and Security Bill goes through. Just imagine, you are suing the Government for complicity in your torture by another regime. You have to bear in mind that this has happened. Anyway, Government decides that this is a matter of national security so you are not allowed to see what they tell the judge - which could be the biggest pack of lies out there. You don't get the chance to pick over it and say "well, know, I know we left this airport at this time on this plane because..." How can you possibly prove or disprove things you aren't allowed to see?

Jo Shaw and her colleagues have drawn up a second motion to submit to Spring Conference. It says:

Conference notes:
  • The motion “No Government Above the Law – the Justice and Security Bill” passed overwhelmingly at the Liberal Democrat Federal Conference in September 2012 called for:
    • Part II of the Justice and Security Bill to be withdrawn or defeated by Liberal Democrat parliamentarians; and
    • Public Interest Immunity to be put into legislation;
  • That the amendment calling for “CMPs to be used only as a last resort and in cases that would otherwise be incapable of being tried” was rejected overwhelmingly by the Liberal Democrat Conference;
  • That Liberal Democrat peers formed the majority of those voting in the Lords to remove secret courts from the Justice and Security Bill;
  • The Liberal Democrat party’s unique characteristic is that party members decide policy at Federal Conference;
  • That despite the above, the government’s intention as stated by Ken Clarke in the Commons on 18th December 2012 is to pursue enactment of Part II of the Justice and Security Bill including some, but not all, of the amendments proposed by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Conference believes:
  • That the measures in Part II of the Justice and Security Bill will mean the courts system of the United Kingdom will provide neither justice nor security in cases involving allegations against the state of the most serious nature including torture, rendition, negligence of armed forces, malicious prosecution and false imprisonment;
  • That the proposals in the Justice and Security Bill are directly contradictory to the core values and stated purpose of the Liberal Democrat party as enshrined in the Preamble to the Constitution, namely to “build and safeguard a fair, free and open society”;
  • That Part II of the Justice and Security Bill should be withdrawn immediately;
  • That active support for the proposals contained in Part II of the Justice and Security Bill in opposition to agreed party policy is tantamount to conduct evidencing material disagreement with the fundamental values and objectives of the Party.
Conference calls for:
  • In the event that Part II of the Justice and Security Bill is not withdrawn in accordance with the above, the agenda of the next Federal Conference shall include a debate to consider sanctions or other measures in accordance with the Constitution;
  • A pledge to repeal Part II of the Justice and Security Act (if so enacted) to be included in the Liberal Democrat manifesto for the next General Election.

If you are a voting rep and you wish to support this motion, please sign up here and fast. The deadline for submission is 1pm on Wednesday.

It may well be that the Federal Conference Committee decides not to schedule this for debate. In this eventuality, reps are also asked whether they would be willing to be one of the 200 reps required to call a special conference on this issue. I reckon that if this happened, it would just be held in Brighton at the same time as Spring Conference so there would be minimal extra expense. It's not something the party would do lightly, though, but it must, I think, be an option. Them inside the bubble need to realise how strongly people feel about this. I have yet to meet a single Lib Dem activist, who isn't on the Government payroll, who agrees with secret courts and even more are upset to see the very clear will of Conference thwarted. Stephen Tall goes as far as to suggest that it's this issue which poses the biggest threat we've seen to Clegg's leadership.

If your mind is not yet made up on the subject, can I point you in the direction of two more blogposts - Andrew Brown's letter to Nick Clegg and Louise Shaw's Cognitive Dissonance and Secret Courts. 

As Louise says:

 I’m not sure why the leadership, Nick Clegg in this case, won’t meet with Jo Shaw (no relation) and the excellent campaign “Lib Dems against Secret Courts”  I’m not sure why no statement has been released. I’m not sure what’s happening here. However I have some faith that the leadership will do the right thing – mainly because I can’t see what the tenable position is for the Liberal Democrats otherwise…..
So I’m sat here with two competing beliefs. I think that we must do the right thing, I can’t believe any Liberal Democrat would believe otherwise. But I’m not sure we are……

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