Report on last night’s Report Stage debate in the Lords

Thanks to the wonders of Hansard, here is the list of the peers who last night voted (sadly, unsuccessfully) to delete secret courts from the Justice and Security Bill, with their party affiliation. I am immensely proud that sixteen of the twenty-five who voted to remove secret courts from the Bill were Liberal Democrats. Three peers from Labour, three Crossbenchers, two Non-affiliated and one Plaid Cymru also voted against secret courts. Importantly, Lord Pannick, who proposed many of the amendments that were successfully carried earlier in the debate and whose views are very influential, voted to remove clause 6.

There were undoubtedly improvements from the authoritarian oppressive draft proposed by the government, but secret courts are still there in this Bill. While the Bill includes secret courts, we will continue to fight it.

The Today programme this morning is reporting a government source indicating they will try and overturn the JCHR amendments (proposed by Lord Pannick and others) in the Commons. In other words, the government wants the Bill in its oppressive entirely one-sided original form. This is very troubling news.

We will be looking at the outcome of the debates, and the government’s response, very carefully over the next few days. The Third Reading of the Bill in the Lords is due to take place on 28.11.12.

In the meantime we will be writing to thank all the peers who voted against secret courts. They deserve our respect, thanks and support:

Bath and Wells, Bp. (Non-affiliated)
Brinton, B. (Liberal Democrat)
Clement-Jones, L. (Liberal Democrat)
Doocey, B. (Liberal Democrat)
Dubs, L. [Teller] (Labour)
Greaves, L. (Liberal Democrat)
Hamwee, B. (Liberal Democrat)
Hussain, L. (Liberal Democrat)
Judd, L. (Labour)
Kennedy of The Shaws, B. (Labour)
Kidron, B. (Crossbencher)
Linklater of Butterstone, B. (Liberal Democrat)
Macdonald of River Glaven, L. (Liberal Democrat)
Maclennan of Rogart, L. (Liberal Democrat)
Pannick, L. (Crossbencher)
Roberts of Llandudno, L. (Liberal Democrat)
Scott of Needham Market, B. (Liberal Democrat)
Shipley, L. (Liberal Democrat)
Stern, B. (Crossbencher)
Strasburger, L. (Liberal Democrat)
Thomas of Gresford, L. [Teller] (Liberal Democrat)
Tonge, B. (Non-affiliated)
Tope, L. (Liberal Democrat)
Walmsley, B. (Liberal Democrat)
Wigley, L.(Plaid Cymru)

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Our letter to the Times

Just to let you know that the following letter has been published in today’s issue of the Times.  A big thank you to the 171 Liberal Democrats who responded so quickly to our request for signatures:

Sir, Your leading article (Nov 19) expressed your paper’s opposition to the Government’s plans for “secret courts”. We, as members of the Liberal Democrats, agree.

On Monday Lord Pannick, QC, described the Justice and Security Bill’s proposals as “unfair, unnecessary and unbalanced”. The issue at stake — open and equal justice — could hardly be more serious. We believe the proposals are neither liberal nor democratic, and, for us, go right to the heart of what it means to support liberal democracy.

We urge all peers to vote for the amendment supported by Lord Dubs, Lord Strasburger and Baroness Kennedy which deletes clause 6 of the Bill. If clause 6 is deleted, secret courts will not blight our civil courts and our international standing for decades to come. It will also mean that Liberal Democrats across the country can continue to assert, as our constitution states, that our party “exists to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society”.

Should the Bill pass with secret courts included, the damage to our justice system and our country will be incalculable.

Continue reading

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Campaign report from the Guardian

Helpful update in the Guardian today which references the campaign:

Liberal Democrats voted overwhelmingly against the bill at their annual party conference, and more than 500 party members have signed an online petition opposing secret courts.

Jo Shaw, a former Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate and lawyer who is co-ordinating the online petition, said: “We are urging peers to support amendment 45, which opposes secret courts. The plans are neither liberal nor democratic and they offend the core values for Liberal Democrats.”

There’s also a very helpful article from Philippe Sands and Dinah Rose laying out the arguments against the proposals.

Even assuming the government’s factual premise to be correct, the CMP is not an answer to any conflict between the interests of justice and national security: the proposed unfairness is far greater than the one it seeks to repair.

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The Times comes out against secret courts.

The Times has come out against secret courts in their leading article today.

As they say:

Closed courts might prevent unjust compensation to terrorist suspects, but the cost in terms of justice is too high.

Indeed.

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Campaign update

We have been working hard this week and over this weekend continue to make the case to scrap Part II of the Bill.

Depressingly, not only has the UK been criticised in the Russian media for our “hidden justice” this week  but today in the Mail (I know), the Conservative MP David Davis has asked “What is the point of the Liberal Democrats if they don’t oppose secret courts?”

Notwithstanding the glee of our opponents, the campaign continues. We have met with very senior party figures this week and explained to them how serious our opposition to the Bill is.

On Monday the Report Stage of the Justice and Security Bill starts. It is likely to go over into Wednesday. Also tomorrow the peers have a meeting to discuss this Bill alone. So this weekend we are making sure peers know, in advance of their meeting, that the membership of the party is opposed to these illiberal unnecessary and unfair proposals.

The Liberal Democrat hero of the week is Lord Paul Strasburger. As you may recall, Lord Strasburger spoke very powerfully in the Conference debate in opposing the Bill. He has now signed an amendment which removes clause 6 (which introduces secret courts in civil proceedings). I understand this amendment has also been signed by Baroness Helena Kennedy who sits on the Joint Committee of Human Rights. This shows the level of disagreement within the committee on the Bill. Lord Strasburger has also put in an amendment which would have the effect of delaying the commencement of the Bill until 2015 and only then when the case has been made and debated by both Houses of Parliament that the measures are necessary.

The JCHR report came out, very late, on Tuesday. The JCHR has proposed amendments (currently rejected by the government) which are disappointing. They appear to be an attempt to water down the Bill, but they do not go as far as our campaign. The amendments still permit secret courts in UK proceedings.

We are intent on seeing off these proposals. It would be a tragedy for our party if Liberal Democrat peers were this week whipped to vote in favour of secret courts. This must not happen.

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Halloween nightmare for government on secret courts?

In another blow for the government and supporters of the “secret courts” provisions, the government’s independent equality and human rights watchdog, the EHRC, has today stated the Justice and Security Bill breaches the Human Rights Act.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has made public its equality and human rights impact assessment on the provisions of the Justice and Security Bill.

The of the EHRC is that the provisions are in breach of Article 6 obligations and also the common law. The EHRC have sought legal advice which concludes that:

  • The provisions of the Bill relating to the introduction of a closed material procedure are incompatible with the common law right to a fair trial of an excluded party;
  • The options to invoke a closed material procedure and to make a closed material application are incompatible with article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention) notwithstanding clause 11(5)(c) of the Bill; and
  • The options given to a relevant person to elect not to comply with orders of the court for disclosure and to provide a summary of evidence. referred to as ‘gisting’, are likewise incompatible with article 6 of the Convention notwithstanding clause 11(5)(c) of the Bill.

In addition our analysis on clauses 6-11 notes that:

  • There is no clear definition of national security or what constitutes sensitive material. Furthermore clause 6(3) prohibits a court from considering whether the interests of justice outweigh those of national security.

This latest negative verdict on the Bill is added to the views of Amnesty International, the Special Advisers, Liberty, Justice and Reprieve. Supporters of the Bill are getting harder and harder to find.

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Does Ken Clarke not understand his own Bill?

According to the Guardian, Ken Clarke has apparently lashed out at campaign organisations calling for Part II of the Justice and Security Bill to be scrapped.

Clarke says critics are wrong to allege that judges do not have decision making power as to whether the Closed Material Procedure should be used.

Here’s the wording of clause 6(2) of the Bill:

  1. The court must, on an application under subsection (1), make such a
    declaration if the court considers that—

    1. a party to the proceedings (whether or not the Secretary of State) would be required to disclose material in the course of the proceedings to another person (whether or not another party to the proceedings), and
    2. such a disclosure would be damaging to the interests of national security.

The key word is “must” – that means if a judge finds that national security would damaged by disclosure of a relevant document, the judge has no discretion – the judge must order CMP to be used.

Either Ken Clarke has not read his own Bill, or he doesn’t understand it, or he is being disingenuous.

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Questions for candidates for Federal party committees / European lists

Signed the petition? Shared it online? Want to help the campaign a bit more? Course you do!

Here’s how:

Lots of people are currently seeking election to the Lib Dem Federal committees: Federal Executive, Federal Policy Committee and Federal Conference Committee. And lots of people are seeking your vote to be our European parliamentary list candidates. (Many of them have been talking about it on Facebook and many have election pages.)

If you are a supporter of this campaign, and for the Federal committee elections if you are a Federal Conference Rep (because that means you have a vote) you could ask anyone standing for one of these posts:

1. what is their stance on the secret courts plan? and

2. what they want our parliamentarians to do in the light of the overwhelming rejection of secret courts by conference?

You could also ask Tim Farron, newly elected as our Party President unopposed, what he plans to do about it?

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Routed by reason: secret justice proposals

Jo is too modest to post this Guardian editorial, so I’ll do it… 🙂

It was not a minister nor an ambitious parliamentarian adopting the “line to take” who set the tone, but the activist Jo Shaw. From Hillsborough to rendition to friendly fire, she explained, if we’ve learned anything, we have learned the dangers of shrouding state power in secrecy.

The party has spoken, and the leadership will not deserve the liberal label if it fails to listen.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/25/liberal-democrat-secret-justice-proposals-editorial

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Amnesty: secret courts “Kafkaesque”

Amnesty describe secret courts as “Kafkaesque”. Well, yes, they are!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2012/oct/15/secret-courts-plan-kafkaesque-amnesty?INTCMP=SRCH

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