“No Secret Courts” Spring Conference motion submitted this morning

This morning we submitted the motion “No Secret Courts: the Liberal Democrat membership response to the Justice and Security Bill” to the party in good time for the 1pm deadline. The full text of the motion is set out below.

Spring Conference takes place on 8th-10th March in Brighton, and the meeting of the Federal Conference Committee which decides the agenda takes place on 19th January. We will keep you posted on the outcome of that meeting.

I reported earlier on the campaign Facebook page that we had submitted the motion, and that I had added in wording to reflect the inclusion of secret courts and the Justice and Security Bill in the mid-term review (page 37 if you want to check). The additional wording is in bold and underlined to make it clear. I hope the addition is not too controversial for any of the many people who supported the motion – please do let us know if any problems or questions. I’m sorry we didn’t have time to check about this – the inclusion of the Bill in the mid-term review took us rather by surprise [understatement].

Many thanks, as always, for all your support, kind words and action!

No Secret Courts – the Liberal Democrat membership response to the Justice & Security Bill

Conference notes:

  • The motion “No Government Above the Law – the Justice and Security Bill” passed
    overwhelmingly at the Liberal Democrat Federal Conference in September 2012
    called for:

    • Part II of the Justice and Security Bill to be withdrawn or defeated by Liberal
      Democrat parliamentarians; and
    • Public Interest Immunity to be put into legislation;
  • That the amendment calling for “CMPs to be used only as a last resort and in cases
    that would otherwise be incapable of being tried” was rejected overwhelmingly by the
    Liberal Democrat Conference;
  • That Liberal Democrat peers formed the majority of those voting in the Lords to
    remove secret courts from the Justice and Security Bill;
  • The Liberal Democrat party’s unique characteristic is that party members decide
    policy at Federal Conference;
  • That despite the above, the government’s intention as stated by Ken Clarke in the
    Commons on 18th December 2012, and as set out in the mid-term review published 7th January 2013, is to pursue enactment of Part II of the Justice and Security Bill including some, but not all, of the amendments proposed by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Conference believes:

  • That the measures in Part II of the Justice and Security Bill will mean the courts
    system of the United Kingdom will provide neither justice nor security in cases
    involving allegations against the state of the most serious nature including torture,
    rendition, negligence of armed forces, malicious prosecution and false imprisonment;
  • That the proposals in the Justice and Security Bill are directly contradictory to the
    core values and stated purpose of the Liberal Democrat party as enshrined in the
    Preamble to the Constitution, namely to “build and safeguard a fair, free and open
    society”;
  • That Part II of the Justice and Security Bill should be withdrawn immediately;
  • That active support for the proposals contained in Part II of the Justice and Security
    Bill in opposition to agreed party policy is tantamount to conduct evidencing material
    disagreement with the fundamental values and objectives of the Party.

Conference calls for:

  • In the event that Part II of the Justice and Security Bill is not withdrawn in accordance with the above, the agenda of the next Federal Conference shall include a debate to consider sanctions or other measures in accordance with the Constitution;
  • A pledge to repeal Part II of the Justice and Security Act (if so enacted) to be included in the Liberal Democrat manifesto for the next General Election.
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Coalition mid-term review commits to secret courts

Cross-posted from Digital Politico: Politics 2.0:

There has been growing concern within the Liberal Democrats about Secret Courts – or Closed Material Proceedings as the government would prefer them to be known. Hundreds of Lib Dem members have signed a petition against the move, which was roundly rejected by the party’s conference in September.

While members can’t mandate parliamentarians, the outcry from within the Lib Dems should have given Honourable Members of both Houses an indication in how to proceed.

Instead, this appeared in the Government’s Mid-Term review, published yesterday:

We will legislate to ensure that the security services are properly monitored through increased Parliamentary oversight and that proper balance is struck in trials involving highly sensitive matters of national security.

The comment, which appears on page 37 of the document, is clearly referring to Part II of the Justice and Security Bill. While detractors may try and dismiss this as a niche issue, it is one that goes to the core of the Lib Dems. It is not an issue where the party has differing opinions and can debate, like the economy or welfare.

Preserving a fair and open justice system is critical to what the Liberal Democrats are about.

As more and more members join the campaign against the provisions, a campaign I’m proud to be helping with, the mid-term review having such a comment seems put the government and party leadership right in conflict with their general membership.

Saying “if only you knew what we knew” because the securocrats have whispered in your ear is really not good enough.

Of course, I could be wrong. The comment is just (only just,) about vague enough that it gives the coalition some wriggle room. Let’s hope they use it.

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New motion for Spring Conference – Jo’s post today on Lib Dem Voice

On Lib Dem Voice today, Jo has updated on the progress of the secret courts Bill in the House of Commons, and asked for support for a motion for Spring Conference in Brighton. The deadline for us to submit the motion is 9th January. If you would like to support the motion and are a 2013 Federal Conference representative please email either martin@libdemsagainstsecretcourts.org.uk or jo@libdemsagainstsecretcourts.org.uk with your name, local party and membership number. And please do share the motion, the petition and the campaign generally with as many of your party colleagues as you can, via email, Twitter or Facebook.

http://www.libdemvoice.org/jo-shaw-secret-courts-update-please-support-our-new-motion-to-the-lib-dems-spring-conference-32332.html#comments

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Amnesty response to 2nd reading of Secret Courts Bill tomorrow

Amnesty calls the Justice and Security Bill “a key moment for open justice”. The second reading of the Bill is tomorrow (Tuesday 18th December).

http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=20523

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Guardian leader from Saturday – Secret courts litmus test for the Liberal Democrats

Saturday’s leader from the Guardian makes it clear how crucial an issue secret courts are for the party. Where are the Liberal Democrats red lines if not on civil liberties? Another way of putting might be, if not to stop secret courts, what are the Liberal Democrats for?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/14/secret-courts-justice-lib-dems

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My reply to Nick Clegg’s civil liberties email today

Dear Nick,

Thanks for your email about the Liberal Democrats successes this week on civil liberties. I was very pleased to hear of your decision to stand up for protecting freedoms of the individuals against an overreaching state. And the news about the Equal Marriage Bill is also good news for all who believe in equality.

I was particularly glad to read from you your comment that:

“it is no use standing up for civil liberties in opposition if you then forget all about them in power”.

However I was disappointed in the omission from your email of any mention of the Justice and Security Bill which introduces secret courts into almost all civil proceedings. For reasons which are not at all clear, the Bill has been rushed to its second reading on Tuesday of this week.

This Bill was described by crossbencher Lord Pannick QC as “unnecessary, unfair and unbalanced”. Lord Pannick voted against the Bill in the Lords, even after his amendments to improve the measures somewhat had been accepted.

You know the outcome of September’s Conference – party members voted overwhelmingly to reject secret courts in any form.

You know the importance of standing up for our key Liberal Democrat principles when in government, as in opposition. And you have previously said:

“…you shouldn’t trust any government, actually including this one. You should not trust government – full stop. The natural inclination of government is to hoard power and information; to accrue power to itself in the name of the public good.”

You are right. We shouldn’t trust any government, particularly not one that tries to put the determination of the most serious claims – torture, rendition, negligence of the armed forces, false imprisonment, habeas corpus – behind closed doors, excluding press, public and the affected civilian party. Secret courts must not be a legacy of a government which includes Liberal Democrats.

Please do what I know you have the authority to do. Please implement our party policy. Please stop this illiberal unnecessary and offensive Bill.

Please stand up for our civil liberties this week as you have last week.

Yours,

Jo Shaw

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Useful update from Amnesty International

Update from Amnesty International here about what they are asking their supporters to do to contact their MP, and suggestions of how to respond if the MP concerned supports the Justice and Security Bill:

http://www2.amnesty.org.uk/blogs/campaigns/justice-and-security-bill-has-your-mp-responded-you

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Stephen Tall, Voice of Russia radio and Lord Strasburger’s speech

Stephen Tall’s latest post opposing Secret Courts following his recent appearance on Voice of Russia radio – including Lord Strasburger’s speech in the Lords’ secret courts debate:

Lib Dem peer Lord Strasburger‘s speech is an absolutely brilliant dissection of the Government’s case for secret courts, and well worth reproducing in full here.

Well worth a read.

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Bill (as amended by the Lords) now up on parliament website

See here:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2012-2013/0056/lbill_2012-20130056_en_2.htm#pt2-pb1-l1g6

So this is the version which includes some improvements to the ways in which secret courts can be applied for. However the amendments do not kill off secret courts or Part II of the Bill altogether, and therefore fall well short of the motion at the Liberal Democrats autumn Conference this year.

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Brilliant editorial in the Times today

Here’s today’s brilliant and inspiring Times leading article.

There are many reasons why a policy, conceived with good intentions, might fall. It could prove to be too complex to administer. The cure might turn out to be, unexpectedly, as bad as the disease. Or its rationale could crumble in the light of events. This week, this last fate befell the Government’s Justice and Security Bill. The Bill, which has already been mangled by defeats in the Lords, contains provisions to expand what, in the jargon, are known as “closed material proceedings”, known to the uninitiated as secret courts.

The Government is claiming the right to hear evidence in secret which, it claims, would compromise national security if it were heard in open court. The case of Binyam Mohamed, a former Guantánamo detainee, is the most notorious example. The risk of compromising national security cannot be taken lightly. But justice has to be seen in broad daylight. It is wrong for the doors of the court to be closed and it is wrong for individuals to stand trial without knowing the evidence that has been presented against them. To know the charges brought against you is a basic right.

The case for the Justice and Security Bill has always been that good people have nothing to fear from the courts proceeding in camera. Secrecy, in other words, does not have malign consequences.

Unfortunately, it would be naive to be quite so sanguine. The provision to prevent a defendant seeing the evidence brought against him was recently invoked in the case of Tom Wilson, an accountant wrongly found guilty of fraud connected to the bribery of civil servants. Mr Wilson was denied permission to see the evidence on which his conviction was overturned. If the clause granting secrecy to the authorities can be used in such a case, it does not require great suspicion of the malign propensity of the State to think that the law might be invoked in other cases where it has absolutely no warrant.

But this week whatever remained of the theoretical case for secrecy has been skewered by events. Scotland Yard’s attempt to keep secret the legal claims by women who say that they have been tricked into sexual relationships with undercover officers shows what will happen when a culture of secrecy is backed up by the authority of law. One claim even includes a demand that the Metropolitan Police take financial responsibility for the upbringing of a child who was fathered by an undercover officer. The attempt by the police to shift these claims from the courts into secret tribunals shows that, if the law permits institutions to seek secrecy, then seek it they will.

The same desire to avoid difficult truths was shown by the revelation that a diary that could have helped Eddie Gilfoyle to fight his conviction for the murder of his wife was kept from his lawyers for 16 years while Mr Gilfoyle was in prison. It was also exhibited last Wednesday by Sue Berelowitz, the Deputy Children’s Commissioner, who sought not to make an issue of the sexual abuse of children by Asian men. No sooner had she made this case than seven Asian men in High Wycombe were charged with child sexual exploitation.

Openness is often difficult for public authorities and some of the issues they are confronting are difficult too. But the principle that justice must be done in the open is a fundamental one and, if the events of the week have shown anything, they have demonstrated that the Government is wrong to proceed with its Bill.

Our campaign is far from over. This article illustrates only too clearly why that has to be the case.

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