All the way through the process, Lib Dem backbenchers in the Lords and the Commons have leaders in trying to protect civil liberties in the face of this bill.
- In the Lords, Lib Dem peers were instrumental in adding many of the protections recommended by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
- In the Commons, Lib Dem MPs, Julian Huppert and Mike Crockert tried to protect those changes in Committee in the face of Government amendments designed to weaken civil protections – and add further amendments that would bring the Bill in line with the original recommendations of the JCHR.
Unfortunately our backbench MP were unable to get these protections into the Bill. Both Julian Huppert and Mike Crockart voted for the amendments along with Party President Tim Farron and Deputy Leader Simon Hughes. Julian and Mike voted against the Bill at 3rd reading.
You are now presented with a Bill that:
- fails to deliver the protections voted into the Bill by Lib Dem backbenchers in the House of Lords
- fails to deliver the recommendations of the JCHR
- fails to deliver Lib Dem party policy
- fails even to deliver the amendment proposed by Lord Marks that was heavily defeated at Lib Dem Conference in the Autumn. As you may recall, the amendment sought to commit us to:
Ensure that closed material proceedings can only be used as a last resort in cases that would otherwise be incapable of being tried.
There are amendments tabled which will improve the Bill. Lord Pannick wrote in the Times on 13th March 2013 about the issues of principle which remain, and the amendments which are necessary. These are now reflected in the two amendments tabled by Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, and the amendment tabled by Lord Beecham. These amendments put into effect the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
The Special Advocates have published a further briefing note which supports these two amendments. It is here: http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2013/03/22/exclusive-special-advocates-open-letter-and-briefing-note-on-secret-trials/ and also attached to this email. This briefing highlights, for example, that the argument that ‘last resort’ would ‘necessitate a costly and time-wasting PII exercise to be undertaken before it could be said that a fair determination was not possible without a CMP’ is – at best – misleading. As they argue:
Whatever procedure is adopted, courts will have to subject to careful scrutiny any material said to be sensitive on grounds of national security. Our experience of disclosure processes under statutory CMPs suggests that it is no less time consuming than the process of examining documents for which PII has been claimed in non-statutory proceedings.
Please support both of these amendments when you are called to vote today. The consequences for our judicial system could not be more serious. You may have seen the reports of the Supreme Court sitting in closed session for the first time in history on Thursday 21st March 2013. Lord Neuberger, the President of the Supreme Court, said the court did so only with “grave reluctance”. He spoke out regarding his concerns about this Bill on 4th March when he said: “anyone interested in democracy” would be concerned about Closed Material Procedures.
I am not in the privileged position of having a vote to determine the protection of our freedoms. You are. Please protect our democratic institutions, protect our fair trials, and vote for the amendments in line with the recommendations of the two reports from the Joint Committee on Human Rights today.
With best wishes,