Last night the Liberal Democrat Lawyers’ Association held a meeting at the National Liberal Club to discuss the Justice and Security Bill and most particularly the provisions allowing secret courts in some civil cases.
They later issued a statement condemning the measures which you can see on their website.
1. Last resort
The responsible Minister, Ken Clarke, has said that the use of a Closed Material Procedure should be only as a last resort. However his wording currently included in the Bill does not deliver this. The wording proposed by the amendment, which was passed by the Lords on 21st November 2012, and was reversed by the Commons in Committee, delivers the last resort meaning and effect.
2. Wiley balance
For decades judges have protected our national security whilst also protecting the open and fair administration of justice. Throughout the course of this Bill the government has been unable to point to a single case where national security has been jeopardised by a judge’s order for disclosure. The “Wiley balance” amendment gives the judge the ability, in essence, to balance the public interest in protecting national security with the public interest in the open and fair administration of justice.
This Bill has constitutional significance. It changes at a stroke the relationship between the State and the individual – and the ability of the individual to call authority to account for wrongdoing. As such, it is entirely appropriate for a renewal clause to be debated every four years.
The Liberal Democrat Lawyers are just the last in a very long line of experts who oppose this bill and its threat to our freedoms. Liberty, Reprieve, Amnesty, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the Law Society and others have all expressed their concerns.
I always thought we were for the ordinary person, standing up against the excesses of the state. With this, and Nick Clegg announcing that he wanted to look at charging for translation services for those in the immigration system, you have to wonder what on earth is going on.
Let’s hope the Lords does the right thing tonight and votes for the three amendments. The right to a fair trial remedy for victims of state abuse should not be lost without a fight.