Email to supporters: “The eleventh hour – this weekend could make the difference”

Here’s our latest email to campaign supporters…

Dear Fellow No to Secret Courts Campaigner,

The campaign continues and reaches the eleventh hour this week. The Lords vote on Tuesday will either improve this terrible Bill, or see it pass in its current non-JCHR compliant form which will mean the campaign to stop the Bill will have failed.

The Special Advocates have yesterday evening published their response to the proposed amendmentsIt is here and is worth reading and circulating as widely as you can. It also provides useful arguments against some of the nonsense being talked in support of secret courts.

The amendments have now been submitted. Liberal Democrats, Labour and crossbencher peers are working together to put forward two amendments to make the Bill less bad. This article in the Guardian is helpful in explaining what is going on.

We need you to write to Lib Dem and crossbencher peers in the next two days. The vote is on Tuesday and there are lots of shenanigans going on behind the scenes by the government to try and get the votes going against the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Huge pressure is being put on backbench Lib Dem peers to give up the position they held when the Bill was first debated in the Lords and back the Government line. Your support to them could make the difference.

The amendments being proposed by Lord Macdonald and Lord Beecham are in line with the two JCHR reports. Here’s what the JCHR said in its first report.

“The question for Parliament is whether or not the Government has persuasively demonstrated, by reference to sufficiently compelling evidence, the necessity for such a serious departure from the fundamental principles of open justice and fairness. To the extent that the Government has in our view failed to discharge that burden of justification, we recommend amendments to the Bill.”

– JCHR 1st report 06.11.12

Here is a draft email for you to send to any Liberal Democrat or crossbench peer – or use to draft your own. You may wish to leave out Lord Wallace, Lord McNally and Lord Marks as they are the principal cheerleaders for this Bill in our party, sadly.

“Dear Lord / Baroness [ ],

This week you have the opportunity – once again – to protect fair trial guarantees which have existed since the Civil War.The measures introduced by the Justice and Security Bill undermine the Rule of Law in our country and amount to an attack on the ability of the citizen to hold the government to account.

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 next week. 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 on Tuesday 26th March.

Many thanks.

With best wishes,

[Your name]

Many thanks for everything you are doing.

Best wishes,

Martin Tod                         Charlotte Henry

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