Coffee House

Exclusive: Senior Lib Dems push for changes to secret courts bill

4 December 2012

1:07 PM

4 December 2012

1:07 PM

Senior Lib Dem MPs are deeply concerned about the government’s plans for secret courts, and will urge the government to accept changes made to the legislation in the House of Lords, I understand.

The Justice and Security Bill will have its second reading in the House of Commons in the next few weeks, fresh from a series of embarrassing defeats on the secret courts measures in the House of Lords. Ken Clarke has said that some of the amendments brought in the upper chamber will need modifying at the very least. But the Liberal Democrat grassroots have been lobbying their parliamentarians to drop the Bill entirely ever since their conference voted on a motion calling for just that in September.

Deputy Leader Simon Hughes, who sits on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which recommended the amendments passed by peers, has told Coffee House that he wants the government to accept the changes when the Bill comes before the House. He says:

‘Clearly the Bill had some proposals which were rightly the cause of some concern. The House of Lords made significant amendments after this bill was considered by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The government should now accept these amendments when they come to the House of Commons for further consideration.’

[Alt-Text]


The party’s president Tim Farron tells me he is also concerned about the proposals, and has been holding meetings with campaigners.

The changes made in the House of Lords would give judges more power to decide whether a court should sit in secret, and restrict the government’s power over the use of covert intelligence in civil cases.

But grassroots members will not be satisfied if the government accepts the amendments and then continues with the legislation: they want it dropped altogether. Jo Shaw, who is leading the push against the Justice and Security Bill, says:

‘If the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ amendments are accepted, it will change the dynamic of the debate a little, but we need to remember that those changes were rejected when we voted on the issue at conference. Our motion rejected the Bill itself, and the principle of secret courts as a whole, and that’s what we are going to keep pushing for. We hope that those from the Labour party and Conservative party who share our grave concerns about this Bill will join in the interests of fair trials to see off secret courts in civil cases.’

For now, it looks as though the campaigners aren’t going to get that, unless the party leadership becomes sufficiently worried about the effects of the Bill. But it’s an interesting stand-off between activists and their MPs as it represents the first big confrontation since the Health and Social Care Bill. Though there is never going to be public outrage about the way courts operate in the same way as there is about changes to the NHS, Lib Dem members themselves get very worked up about the idea of secret hearings. There could be another face-off at the party’s spring conference in March 2013. The deadline for motions on the conference floor is late January, by which time activists may be starting to get nervous that their MPs aren’t going to be convinced that they should obey the autumn conference motion instructing them to vote down the legislation.

More Spectator for less. Stay informed leading up to the EU referendum and in the aftermath. Subscribe and receive 15 issues delivered for just £15, with full web and app access. Join us.




Show comments
  • Lee Robert

    We should have Pewter Tatchell as the justice minister then we would get somewhere. So far two justice ministers, both gay have ignored what is happening to myself and my gay partner of 34 years. Peter Tatchell is backing our campaign for justice against the UK police and government who are ignoring our plight as two elderly people. It is indeed scandalous that the UK government have the audacity to complain about how gay people are treated in Africa and Russia when they totally fail to deal with problems on their own doorstep such as what is happening to myself and my partner here http://leeandmanalienversushenriettajanedarcyausten.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/henrietta-jane-darcy-austen-ronnie-hobby-perverting-the-course-of-justice-in-a-criminal-case-in-february-2011/

  • Lee Robert

    Now that Simon Hughes is our new and latest Gay Justice Minister. I have written to him to help myself and my partner as he has published he helps gay people with problems both locally and nationally. We should have Peter Tatchell as the justice minister then we would get somewhere. So far two justice ministers, both gay have ignored what is happening to myself and my gay partner of 34 years. Peter Tatchell is backing our campaign for justice against the UK police and government who are ignoring our plight as two elderly people. It is indeed scandalous that the UK government have the audacity to complain about how gay people are treated in Africa and Russia when they totally fail to deal with problems on their own doorstep such as what is happening to myself and my partner here http://leeandmanalienversushenriettajanedarcyausten.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/henrietta-jane-darcy-austen-ronnie-hobby-perverting-the-course-of-justice-in-a-criminal-case-in-february-2011/

  • Rhoda Klapp

    We already have secret courts. Are there not sufficient stories about the treatment of families to raise any concern, if the secrecy is the problem? Why would it be OK to have secret family courts but not for terrorists? Secrecy where justice is doled out is wrong. We have it right now.

    • Jo Shaw

      We don’t have secret courts in family proceedings. There are closed hearings (where all parties can be present, but not the press or public) but not secret courts.

      • Fergus Pickering

        Closed as opposed to open. And how is a hearing different from a court? Sounds like a secret court to me. Tell me the difference. I don’t see it.A different NAME doesn’t do it.

        • salieri

          Fergus, I thought JS’s point was well made and clearly explained. Family courts are not open to the public. That’s all. The parties and their representatives attend the hearing and can see and hear all the evidence. What’s proposed in the Bill, on the other hand, is a hearing (of civil claims only) in which some of the material is so sensitive – i.e. the identification of spies, sources and spying methods – that that particular part can only be heard in camera, by the Judge and the special advocates. The phrase “Secret Courts” sounds suitably sinister but is misleading. It’s not the court that is secret but some part of the evidence. That’s all.

          • Jo Shaw

            Well, it is secret to the civilian party. Another description might be “one-sided hearings” because one side is completely excluded. And there is no evidence that national security would be compromised and that is not the government’s justification for the Bill. They say it is necessary for a fair hearing for their evidence. The massive hypocrisy of this doesn’t strike them as problematic.

            This Bill would introduce hearings that are neither Just nor Secure. Where allegations of our government being responsible for faulty military equipment, or complicit in torture or rendition it seems to me that sunlight is the best disinfectant. No examples of a case where a Closed Material Procedure would have been necessary have been advanced by those who support these proposals. The government is planning to end centuries of fair trial protections on the basis of no evidence at all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.maloney.39904 John Maloney

    Secret courts are only needed by totalitarian governments. This government is bent on removing any form of dissent against the state. The war on terror is a red herring.

  • barbie

    I have some sympathy for secret courts being held. Why? In the case of terroists, where police or agents giving evidence they need to be protected. I see the judge here as the main source of deciding, but some of our judges are not up to scratch either, so where does that leave this country? It can work in special circumstances, but would have to be done in certain ways. Usually I don’t like the word ‘secret’ as it seems seedy, but we all have to accept in todays’ world its something we have to accept. If it means protecting those who protect us, the so be it; as long as its done in the spirit of democracy.

    • telemachus

      Thin end of the wedge barbie
      Who can we trust in either Government or Judiciary not to cover up facts
      The Government will always have a cover up and punish agenda
      The Judiciary are by and large more right wing than UKIP(that is those who are not in UKIP already)

  • Jo Shaw

    Thanks for this Isabel. Of course, it’s not simply Liberal Democrat members who get themselves worked up about having one-sided hearings excluding alleged victims of torture behind closed doors. Organisations such as Amnesty International, Reprieve, Justice, Liberty, the General Council of the Bar, the Law Society, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and individuals such as the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Lord Pannick, Baroness Kennedy, Lord Dubs, and, last but not least, the Special Advocates who are experts in the use of so-called “secret courts” all oppose the plans too.

    • salieri

      With that line-up opposing the Bill, it can’t be all bad.

  • Thick as two Plancks

    He should be condemned to smoking 50 cigarettes a day like a laboratory rat until he “sees sense”. Cough, cough.

  • Colonel Mustard

    There is something disturbing about middle-aged politicians who wear multi-coloured scarves in the manner of sixth-form students. I realise that is an unacceptable discriminatory remark for which I should be re-constructed but it just slipped out. Have no fear, I’ll report myself to the new press watchdog as soon as it is established.

    • telemachus

      On the other hand we could proscibe you now

      • Colonel Mustard

        Oh, you are back again. What joy for “us”.

        • telemachus

          Would have been good if my advice had been taken an hour before your post

          • Colonel Mustard

            Yes, we get that you like censorship and “trumped up charges”for those you disagree with. You are another whose complete lack of self-awareness results in blindness to your own fascism.

            • telemachus

              OK
              Pray explain how dress is relevant to political views
              Is this to be extended to the burka?

              • Colonel Mustard

                Oh, I see. Now we get the religio-racist smear angle from you. Which has absolutely nothing to do with my comment. Comment. It’s a comment. We are still (just about) allowed to make them, no thanks to the likes of you. Why does every comment have to be subject to a telemachus monitoring bot? And why is it that you always tag onto someone else’s comment for your slogans rather than post one of your own? It is to gain prominence for your slogans regardless of the number of down arrows you acquire.

                You are an agenda not a commentator. There are one or two like you on every conservative blog.

    • fergus pickering

      yes, you’re right about the scarves, such people should be imprisoned and tortured.

      • Terentius

        Secretly.

Close
Can't find your Web ID? Click here