The Secret Courts Bill is now even more of a threat to British justice


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8:50 am - February 8th 2013

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by Donald Campbell

The Government’s plans for secret courts yesterday finished the latest stage in their process through Parliament in an even more dangerous form than before.

Ministers successfully used committee stage to strip out the – already somewhat feeble – safeguards which had been inserted into the Bill by the House of Lords.

What is left is a piece of legislation which gives the government more freedom than ever before to put itself above the law, excluding its opponents from the courtroom altogether by claiming ‘national security’ is involved.

What seems to have often been forgotten in the debate surrounding this Bill is its origins in our own government’s complicity in torture and rendition.

These are not mere allegations. Just under three years ago, one of the most senior judges in the country was warning that MI5 had a “dubious record” on human rights and torture and “an interest in the suppression” of information about the mistreatment of detainees in the so-called War on Terror.

Lord Neuberger, who made these comments then, is now head of the UK Supreme Court. More recently, in a speech coinciding with the passage of the secret courts bill through the Lords, he emphasised that “our commitment to open justice…underpins the rule of law,” and warned that judgements in which reasons are not given – a situation which would result from secret courts – “are certainly not justice at all.

Yet it seems Lord Neuberger’s comments both then and now have either been ignored or forgotten by those in Westminster who support the Secret Courts Bill.

Rather than a real attempt to get to the bottom of our own agencies’ involvement in some of the worse human rights abuses in the ‘War on Terror’ – such as the torture of Gaddafi opponents and the kidnapping and ‘rendition’ of their wives and young children – the Government has brought forward a Bill to help ensure such abuses are unlikely to see the light of day in future.

The Inquiry the Government set up to look into these matters was so toothless and lacking in independence that it had to be shelved due to a lack of support.

Parliament – including the Intelligence and Security Committee – has had the wool pulled over its eyes on rendition and torture before, and there is no reason to assume the future will be any different. This is why accountability of Government through the courts is so indispensable.

Yet with a system weighted in the Government’s favour, where anyone opposing the state will never hear the evidence used against them, this will become near impossible.

This is what will happen if proposals for secret courts make it through the Commons. Ken Clarke and James Brokenshire, the ministers responsible, have shown that they have no interest in compromise by their successful wrecking of the Lords amendments at committee stage.

The only way forward for any MP interested in preserving the rule of law and Britain’s reputation for a fair system of justice is therefore to vote to remove secret courts – or ‘Closed Material Procedures’ – from the Bill altogether.


Donald Campbell is the Communications Officer at Reprieve.

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Reader comments


Oh how I remember the days of the Blair government and the tories banging on about police state. I also remember Ken Clark saying we should stand up to the US and not be dictated too.

And then we have the army of tory euro sceptics who talk endlessly about national sovereignty, and the Britsh people. Hollow words, liars the lot of them. Here they are about to inact into law the will of the CIA. Sovereignty my ass, they are puppets of The American Empire.

We already have secret courts, they’re called family courts, and super injunctions.

Regardless, at least Shami and Henry Porter are going wild, as of old, and it’s all over the media.

Err, well, actually they’re not. Weird that. You might even suspect there’s a bit of political partisanship happening.

Where are Shami and Henry Porter?
Perish the thought that they might not be hyper-critical when it comes to this government rather than the last one.

“Where are Shami and Henry Porter?
Perish the thought that they might not be hyper-critical when it comes to this government rather than the last one.”
I couldn’t agree more.
You can add to that list
1. Nick Cohen
2. Martin Bright
3. Most of the press
4. UK liberty
And many, many more

It seems the bill, like so many is the governmental (corporate) procedure of applying a veneer of legitimacy to an established process in order to offset future exposure. The intervention by the house of lords is nothing more than ex ministers who no longer need to look over their shoulders, thus able to speak more freely. MP’s will vote for whatever bill secures their own positions.


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