Liberal Reform is proud to carry this letter from Jo Shaw who led the debate against secret courts at Lib Dem Autumn Conference 2012, and support the campaign for an open, liberal, justice season led by her and Martin Tod.
We are cross posting this letter with simultaneously with colleagues from the Social Liberal Forum.
You can find out more information and sign the petition at www.libdemsagainstsecretcourts.org.uk
“Almost one month ago, Liberal Democrat members voted overwhelmingly at party Conference against Part II of the Justice and Security Bill. This makes provision for “secret courts” to be used in any civil proceedings (except, at present, for inquests) in cases where national security is said to be at risk. It is illiberal, oppressive and unnecessary – no evidence has been put forward to demonstrate the need for it – vague cases are mentioned but there is no detail, and the implications are appalling.
Here are some possible uses for “secret courts” (so called Closed Material Procedures (CMP)):
(1) A solider has his legs blown off when using MoD equipment he alleges was faulty. He and his family sue the MoD for negligence. The MoD refuses to compensate him and claims that the evidence about the alleged faulty equipment and the way he used it is national security sensitive, and therefore a CMP should be used. The government accuse the soldier in secret of being to blame for the accident (using a security sensitive source). He loses his case and never knows of the allegations against him or why he lost.
(2) A pensioner is knocked over by a car driven by the Security Services. She sues for damages. They claim that having regard to an alleged mission they were on at the time the driving was not negligent. They use a CMP to help them deny her compensation. She never knows the reasons why.
(3) An MI5 officer regularly visits one of his sources who has a young family in a safe house. He regularly abuses a young child of the family during the visits. The source is vulnerable and dares not complain. When the child grows up and wishes to take an action for damages against the officer the government obtains a CMP to ensure defence is heard in secret, and the reasons for denying compensation never made known.
(4) A newspaper publishes articles exposing corruption by government ministers in the arms trade. The government ministers and the arms companies sue for defamation. The newspaper relies on justification and brings forwards evidence that the allegations are true. The government minister wishes to adduce evidence of malice against the paper and says his sources are security sensitive. He uses a CMP to determine the case in his favour relying on the evidence of the security services. The newspaper is effectively gagged from repeating the allegations.
On 25th September our Conference delegates were mindful of the founding principles for our party of openness, fairness and freedom. The party members were wholly unpersuaded by the case put forward by the government and by the parliamentarians who spoke in favour of the wrecking amendment, including Lord Wallace (whose name appears on the Bill) and our Chief Whip in the Commons Alistair Carmichael.
Since that day in Brighton, many of us in the party have been working to make sure our parliamentarians hear that lesson – over one hundred people signed up to the petition at www.libdemsagainstsecretcourts.org.uk within the first five days – please will you now do the same?
We want to make sure our parliamentarians understand the will of the party membership, that they listen to what Conference has emphatically decided is now party policy, and that they take the necessary steps now to Kill this Bill!
Please sign the petition and share it with whoever you can within the party. The signs are this Bill can be killed off – but only with your help.