Coffee House

Ken Clarke’s concession on secret courts fails to calm Lib Dem fears

18 December 2012

6:09 PM

18 December 2012

6:09 PM

Ken Clarke’s announcement that the government will accept a major House of Lords amendment to the Justice and Security Bill might ease the legislation’s passage through the Commons. The Lib Dems and several senior Conservative figures, including Andrew Tyrie, have been pressing the government to accept the amendment, which gives judges more discretion on whether a court should sit in secret. So those parliamentarians will be happy.

But there is still a fight on the cards, albeit not in either chamber of Parliament. The Liberal Democrat grassroots remain horrified by the Bill’s proposals for secret courts in general, even though they aren’t currently getting much traction with their MPs when it comes to scrapping the legislation entirely. This is what party members voted for at its autumn conference in Brighton, and campaigners are continuing to pursue it with some vigour.


Nick Thornsby, a founding member of the party’s Liberal Reform group, says:

‘It is of course welcome that Ken Clarke has recognised some of the flaws contained in the original bill. But even the amendments made in the House of Lords don’t go far enough. The bill, establishing the principle of court cases where one side can’t hear the evidence from the other, is fundamentally illiberal. It is difficult to see how Part II can remain intact and be acceptable to Liberal Democrats.’

Over the weekend, another anti-secret courts campaigner Jo Shaw wrote to Nick Clegg to ask him to continue the commitment to civil liberties that he demonstrated by dropping his support for the Communications Data Bill and fight the Justice and Security Bill too. With the Lib Dem leader’s new commitment to gory government, now might not be the worst time to attempt some further differentiation on civil liberties.

I understand that campaigners are considering tabling motions for debate at the party’s spring conference on this matter, with some suggesting this could be as big a problem for the party as the Health and Social Care Bill was. There is still the possibility that activists could organise a special conference on the legislation, too. In this instance, though, there seems to be a wider disconnect between Lib Dem MPs and grassroots members, with the former currently accepting something the party members want scrapped.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • Jenny Barnes

    what I wrote was
    torture is ok as long as it’s only applied to brown people?
    as this seems to be the attitude that underpins the secret courts bill.

  • Jenny Barnes

    Or the UK government could just withdraw from those inconvenient treaties about torture. Irony mode on irony mode off. Then there would be no need for secret courts. Why have they never tried Abu Qatada for anything????

  • John Maloney

    I would not trust any judge to make the right decisions in these cases. There are far too many Freemasons in the judiciary, police and politics to let any of them set the agenda.

  • anyfool

    Lib Dem fears.
    I am afraid the fears these have are induced by sheer panic at the thought of the noose that awaits them, it is like having a seat on death row as they slowly but surely shuffle along towards the door marked General Election, their pitiful screeches at reality do them no favours it just confirms in the executioners minds, that this is the right thing to do.

  • Thick as two Plancks

    An alternative to the proposed bill might be a law that says although torture is illegal the security services may never be accused of complicity in it, notwithstanding any other Yuman Rites legislation. That will stop these money-grabbing lawsuits by our enemies.

    By the way, who pays for their lawyers? Could that not be classed as political donations from abroad, and therefore illegal?