How I spent my morning: emailing every single Liberal Democrat peer I could find an email for and who wasn't Jim Wallace, Jonathan Marks or Tom McNally with this email. I then excised the Lib Demmery and did another version for cross benchers.
The letter itself is mostly nicked from those nice Liberal Democrats against secret courts people with my own bit tacked on at the beginning.
Richard Morris has written his own version which you can read here.
Let's hope it persuades them to do the right thing and vote for the amendments this afternoon.
Dear (Lib Dem Peer)
As a long standing member of the Liberal Democrats, I am very concerned about the measures for secret courts in the Justice and Security Bill. Put simply, they create a situation where it is simply not possible for a trial to be fair. If you torture me and I sue you and you file a defence that I can’t see, how am I supposed to tell the Judge that you are talking hogwash? It must feel very counter-intuitive to be asked to support something which does not satisfy the Joint Committee on Human Rights and is opposed by human rights groups such as Liberty, Reprieve and Amnesty as well as the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the Law Society and many prominent lawyers. You may be aware that last night the Liberal Democrat Lawyers issued a statement saying that this Bill presents more of a threat to our liberties than terrorists do.
If you vote in favour of the three amendments on the Wiley Balance, the last resort issue and for reviews, then you will have the backing of the party outside parliament. Every test of opinion so far has overwhelmingly rejected the idea of secret courts. Federal Conference has voted against them twice and I proposed the motion at Scottish Conference that was opposed by only two people and one of them was Jim Wallace!
Today you have the opportunity - once again - to protect fair trial guarantees which have existed since the Civil War. The measures introduced by the Justice and Security Bill undermine the Rule of Law in our country and amount to an attack on the ability of the citizen to hold the government to account.
All the way through the process, Lib Dem backbenchers in the Lords and the Commons have leaders in trying to protect civil liberties in the face of this bill.
- In the Lords, Lib Dem peers were instrumental in adding many of the protections recommended by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
- In the Commons, Lib Dem MPs, Julian Huppert and Mike Crockert tried to protect those changes in Committee in the face of Government amendments designed to weaken civil protections - and add further amendments that would bring the Bill in line with the original recommendations of the JCHR.
You are now presented with a Bill that:
- fails to deliver the protections voted into the Bill by Lib Dem backbenchers in the House of Lords
- fails to deliver the recommendations of the JCHR
- fails to deliver Lib Dem party policy
- fails even to deliver the amendment proposed by
Lord Marks that was heavily defeated at Lib Dem Conference in the Autumn. As you
may recall, the amendment
sought to commit us to:
Ensure that closed material proceedings can only be used as a last resort in cases that would otherwise be incapable of being tried.
The Special Advocates have published a further briefing note which supports these two amendments. It is here: http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2013/03/22/exclusive-special-advocates-open-letter-and-briefing-note-on-secret-trials/ and also attached to this email. This briefing highlights, for example, that the argument that 'last resort' would 'necessitate a costly and time-wasting PII exercise to be undertaken before it could be said that a fair determination was not possible without a CMP' is - at best - misleading. As they argue:
Whatever procedure is adopted, courts will have to subject to careful scrutiny any material said to be sensitive on grounds of national security. Our experience of disclosure processes under statutory CMPs suggests that it is no less time consuming than the process of examining documents for which PII has been claimed in non-statutory proceedings.Please support both of these amendments when you are called to vote today. The consequences for our judicial system could not be more serious. You may have seen the reports of the Supreme Court sitting in closed session for the first time in history on Thursday 21st March 2013. Lord Neuberger, the President of the Supreme Court, said the court did so only with "grave reluctance". He spoke out regarding his concerns about this Bill on 4th March when he said: "anyone interested in democracy" would be concerned about Closed Material Procedures.
I am not in the privileged position of having a vote to determine the protection of our freedoms. You are. Please protect our democratic institutions, protect our fair trials, and vote for the amendments in line with the recommendations of the two reports from the Joint Committee on Human Rights today.
With best wishes,