Politics Magazine

Justice Should Be Open

Posted on the 05 March 2013 by Thepoliticalidealist @JackDarrant

Until the Coalition, with Ken Clarke as Justice secretary, started writing legislation, I thought we had a civil libertarian government for the first time since about the 1960s. For once, all the unwanted authoritarianism inflicted on this country by successive New Labour and Conservative governments was actually likely to be partly-reversed. The initial signs were indeed welcoming: ID Cards were abolished (but the equally sinister National Identity Register remains in place) and the law stating that suspects may be detained by the police for no longer than 28 days without charge was not to be altered to 42 days, as Gordon Brown.

Unfortunately, this supposed drive to defend the individual’s legal rights has turned out to be a shallow pre-election votegrabbing exercise. The Liberal Democrats, the one party that the public trusted on these matters, have voted with the Tories for the introduction of secret courts.

The reasoning behind the legislation seems reasonable enough: where the revealing of evidence or witnesses would compromise national security, the prosecution can ask the judge to receive the evidence in private, and not reveal information to the general public. The controversy is over the ease with which a secret court should be held, with the Labour frontbench suffering defeat for its amendment which would make secret courts a measure of absolute last resort. By contrast, the Government would like judges to have discretion (which is abhorrent to British principles that the public’s right to know should only be usurped by the protection of their security).

Some of the more principled Lib Dems, including the party’s President, have voted with Labour. In turn, some of the Blairites such as Jack Straw and Hazel Blears have supported the Government, which won the vote. It is now down to the House of Lords to pass or amend the legislation. I note with concern how little media coverage the severe cuts to Legal Aid and the secret courts legislation have received. When they come into effect, we will no longer be equal under the law: the poor will have no means of holding people and individuals to account in the courtroom, and one will be able to face conviction on evidence that is difficult to challenge without expert input.

This isn’t good enough.

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