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Mar 14th, 2013

Update: secret courts

By [email protected]

Back in February, nearly 24,000 of us emailed our MPs to ask them to vote against secret courts in the Justice and Security Bill. Disappointingly, secret courts went through. We didn’t win this time, but we did have a huge impact. You can read what Isabella Sankey, Director of Policy at Liberty, has to say about 38 Degrees members and the secret courts legislation below:

‘If history has taught us anything, it’s that politicians abandon legal principles at their peril – today’s cover-up is tomorrow’s scandal. Disappointingly many MPs made that very mistake on March 4th – deserting traditions of open justice and fair trials in the name of secrecy and cover-up.

The Government’s odious Justice and Security Bill was forced through the Commons despite resistance from Labour, minority parties and brave Coalition rebels, who tried to reintroduce safeguards to ensure Secret Courts are the exception and not the norm.

The amendments would have meant that Secret Courts would be invoked only where a judge has balanced the public interest in disclosure against the need for secrecy – and only where it would be otherwise impossible for the case to proceed.

Regrettably Labour’s safeguards were defeated when put to a vote as many parliamentarians sided in favour of legislation which would overturn 400 years of equality before the law in Britain – allowing for grave errors and abuses to be hidden for good.

Despite the ultimate defeat, the high support for these amendments was surely made possible thanks to the efforts of 38 Degrees members, thousands of whom pressured their local MPs to defeat these illiberal and shaming proposals ahead of yesterday’s showdown.

They joined the legal profession, the international community, the UN Rapporteur on Torture, the Scottish Government, Liberty members and much of the national press, in rejecting this Bill and urging elected politicians to follow suit.

Despite the vote, all is far from lost. The legislation will now head back to the Lords, where it is hoped that Peers will again block it in its current form – paving the way for an extended period of parliamentary “ping-pong” between the two Houses.

Once again we’ll be looking to the House of Lords to defend the Rule of Law – and 38 Degrees members can help by keeping the campaigning up and the pressure on.

This is a Bill rotten beyond redemption. Every day seems to bring new examples of how it would hide dirty State secrets – from women duped by undercover police officers to former Iraqi detainees alleging torture by UK officials.

The Prime Minister once said that “sunlight was the best disinfectant”. With opposition to morphing British courts into secret commissions continuing to mount, perhaps he should heed his own advice, dump these dangerous proposals and allow for abuses to continue to be properly exposed under the law.’

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