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Secret Courts an illiberal abomination – what is Nick Clegg thinking of?

Tom Winnifrith
Sunday 10 March 2013

I am not sure what the Lib Dems are meant to stand for these days and in a couple of years’ time they will be an electoral irrelevancy anyway. But I always thought that a party with the word Liberal in its name might have some sort of core beliefs in the liberty of the citizen against an all-powerful state. Unless I have read my John Stuart Mill very incorrectly I think that should be the case.

However, under current plans which the Lib Dems in parliament have largely supported, the law will change to extend secret hearings across the civil justice system. In a secret hearing defendants or claimants will not be allowed to be present, know or challenge the case against them and must be represented by a security-cleared special advocate, rather than their own lawyer. Right now these procedures are used in tiny numbers of immigration and deportation hearings, but the Government wants to extend them across the civil courts in cases deemed to involve national security.

Now, I am sure you can spot the flaw in this proposal. It is the State that decides when the security of the State is threatened. In a country where burning a poppy on twitter and where calling a police horse “gay” have both been deemed by the State to be offences, I simply do not trust the State.

That may trivialise the point. What about the whistleblower? The David Kelly figure. As the law stands now he is just murdered in the woods, sorry I meant allowed a public trial if charged. But as the law may stand in future someone who exposed how a crazed leader started an illegal war with a pack of lies about Weapons of Mass Destruction ( not that we would ever have such a crazed leader would we Mr. Blair?) could find the State incarcerating him after a secret trial.

The proposals are an abomination. And they are so utterly illiberal that it really begs the question of what is the point of a Liberal party if it cannot even bring itself to oppose this, so desperate is it to keep the snouts of its leaders in the trough of power for another two years at least.

Shame on you Nick Clegg. Although there is stiff competition for the moment that marks the low point of your leadership, your support of Secret Courts has to be a prime contender.

As it happens most Tories and Labour MPs support these awful plans too. The political classes are united in imposing legislation that makes Airstrip One an ever less likeable place to live.

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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