My feelings are a bit mixed, reading the Centre for Policy Studies report Neither Just nor Secure on the Justice and Security Bill, currently going through the House of Commons. Co-authored by Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, it says that the Amendments passed by the House of Lords are not sufficient.
The provisions to extend Closed Material Procedures (or secret courts) are not the only criticisms they make of the bill. They say that the Intelligence and Security Committee must have stronger scrutiny powers and the definition of sensitive information should have a tighter definition to stop Governments suppressing their own wrongdoing.
It annoys me that it’s a Tory who’s making all the running on this. If we were in opposition, there’s no way on earth we would be backing it. Nick Clegg makes no more mistakes than you or I – but this one is a fairly major blooper and it’s time for him to acknowledge that he was wrong to let this bill get as far as it has in the condition it has. It should be withdrawn and reconsidered.
However, although Andrew Tyrie has written the report, you don’t have to look too far to find some Liberal Democrat names in the acknowledgements:
We would also like to thank a large number of people who have come forward over the years to help in efforts to discover the truth about – and bring to an end – Britain’s involvement in kidnap and torture. Among these are Joanne Clement, Derek Craig, Joe Cyr, Paul Dacam, Deba Das, Roger Gough, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, Paul Lomas, Stuart McCracken, Jamie Potter, Timothy Pitt-Payne QC, Cordelia Rayner, Stuart Wheeler and Baroness Williams of Crosby.
We would like to thank David Anderson QC, Damian Hind, Ann Marsh, Ravi Mehta, Chris Mullin, Jesse Norman MP, Shane Sibel, Lindsay Symmes and Lord Tyler for their comments on various parts of this paper.
The changes Tyrie and his co-author Anthony Peto QC want to see are as follows:
CMPs must be a last resort; a judge should have to exhaust the possible use of “Public Interest Immunity”before considering the use of a CMP.
Even where a CMP is approved, the judge should be able to balance the interests of justice against those of national security in deciding if information should be disclosed.
Where CMP is used, summaries of the national security sensitive information should be provided to the excluded party and his or her legal representatives.
The definition of “sensitive information” to block application of Norwich Pharmacal disclosures should be narrowed.
Proposals to reform the ISC should be strengthened, and its Chairman should be elected, subject to safeguards, by secret ballot by Parliament, as recommended by the Wright Committee in 2009.
A five year sunset clause should be incorporated.
They say quite unequivocally that the Bill in its present form risks damaging Britain’s open justice system.
If you agree that the relevant parts of this Bill should be withdrawn, please can you email any MPs of ours that you know and Nick Clegg asking them to think again. It dawns on me that maybe the Letter from the Leader on Saturday might give us an opportunity to get our point across in sufficient numbers. If you get this, and you want to see the Bill withdrawn, reply to it this coming Saturday and say, simply, “No to secret courts – please withdraw Liberal Democrat support from Part II of this Bill now as Conference requested last September.” If The Powers That Be get a few hundred emails like that, then it would give them another sign that the Party is very unhappy with them on this. And that’s the whole party, not just one particular group within it. Are you in?