Private Eye on the Government’s Proposal to Introduce Secret Courts

I’ve recently linked to Another Angry Voice’s blog post attacking the government’s proposal to introduce secret courts. Last year Private Eye also ran a piece in its edition for the 21st September – 4th October. The article ran as follows:

‘Secret Courts

Open and Shut Cases

The first lesson the apologetic David Cameron should learn from the Hillsborough inquiry is that there can be no justification for his plan to press ahead with a new raft of secret courts.

While the scale of the cover-up by the authorities in the wake of the football tragedy was breathtaking, the fact that police and other agents of the state can lie and fabricate damning evidence while burying other material that doesn’t help their case has been a long and unhappy feature of our justice system.

It is often only because of a tireless campaign by families, sometimes working with dedicated lawyers, trawling through boxes of evidence and material, that the injustice is finally put right-not before many lives have been destroyed. Non-disclosure of material which could prove someone’s innocence, of police, scientific or state malpractice, have long been major factors in these cases.

Such cover-ups happen even when the courts are open to public scrutiny and defendants or those challenging the state and their lawyers have rights of access to evidence. Imagine how much easier it would be behind closed court doors.

However, the Ministry of Justice is pressing ahead with plans to establish new secret courts, which will allow ministers to apply for special ‘closed material procedures’ (CMPs) in civil courts when it or its intelligence agencies and forces are being sued. It has also recently conceded in the Lords that CMPs could be employed in habeas corpus claims – the ancient law to ensure that people are not unlawfully detained – meaning yet more people will be locked up without knowing on what basis and without the means to contest it properly.

Cleverly, the prime minister used his “liberal” justice secretary Ken Clarke to steer through the controversial legislation, before ditching him for Chris Grayling in the reshuffle to the right. Clarke duly maintained that the measures are needed to prevent sensitive intelligence material provided by friendly states being revealed in open court.

The previous Labour administration always claimed, dubiously, that the US had been outraged at the use of American evidence in the UK courts which showed MI5 officers were involved in the torture and unlawful interrogation of British resident and Guantanamo Bay detainee, Binyam Mohamed. Lord Neuberger, the then master of the rolls, found that the security services had failed to respect human rights, had misled parliament and had a culture of suppression. All this was damning and hugely embarrassing for the service and Labour government which had tried to keep the material secret; and no doubt this is the driving motive behind the new secret court legislation for which MI5 has been lobbying ever since.

Under the proposals an application by the government for a court to sit in secret might itself remain secret as in the discredited superinjunction cases. The public would be prevented from learning about cases like that of Binyam Mohamed and the more recent cases of rendition to Iraq.’

The article then considered the case of another Guantanamo detainee, whose case was reviewed behind closed doors, rather than in open court.

‘It has now emerged that other Guantanamo detainees who were promised an inquiry and investigation into claims that they had ben illegally detained and ill-treated are again being thwarted by the government and authorities.

In January the judge-led Gibson inquiry – which was also to take place behind closed doors – into allegations of wrongdoing by the UKI’s security services was scrapped because Ken Clarke said it would interfere with a new Met police investigation into the Iraqi renditions.

Others making similar allegations were invited to complain formally to the police. But last month human rights lawyer Louise Christian, representing Guantanamo detainee Martin Mubanga, was told that a “scoping panel” which includes director public prosecutions Keir Starmer and senior police chiefs was deciding which cases to prioritise.

Curiously, the panel’s view was that the evidence in Mr Mubanga’s case would be best examined in the first instance “within the wider context of the detainee inquiry”, ignoring the fact tha the Gibson inquiry has been axed – and with no firm plans for any further inquiry.

Ms Christian told the Eye she knew of no precedent where police and the Crown Prosecution Service, which are supposed to be independent of government, postpone criminal investigations for a behind-closed-doors inquiry,m which would not in any event meet international human rights law governing serious allegations. More successful lobbying by the spooks, no doubt.’

Now I doubt that many people have much sympathy for the Guantanamo detainees, the majority of whom are there for very good reasons. There is, however, the wider issue of justice involved here. Justice has to be impartial. It has to operate, even in the cases of individuals accused of the most terrible crimes, regardless of what we think of them. Moreover, the legal safeguards built into these cases also protect wider society. It is to stop the same laws now being used in Gitmo being applied to other British citizens, to prevent Britain becoming a surveillance state where people disappear without knowing the crime of which they have been accused.

The proposal for these secret courts has been compared to the nightmare denials of justice portrayed in Kafka’s novels The Trial and The Castle. These predicted the situation that existed decades later under the Nazis and the Communists. During Stalin’s Terror people disappeared, taken from their homes and families by the NKVD as it then was, for trivial offences of Thoughtcrime. Simply remarking that Stalin appeared ill could and did get people arrested for being imperialist and Trotskyite spies engaged in anti-Soviet activities. Under the Nazis the phrase was ‘Nacht und Nebel’ – night and fog. Their disappearance into the maze of concentration camps without any statement regarding their whereabouts was deliberately calculated to inspire fear. Saddam Hussein operated a similar regime in Iraq. Under Hussein there were a number of laws relating to spying and national security in the Iraqi penal code, which it was illegal even to know about. These laws were invoked to detain and murder political opponents. it was for violation of these codes that the British journalist, Faisal Bazoft, was arrested and then murdered by the Iraqi regime.

If Cameron’s proposal for such secret courts goes ahead, we will have created the type of justice system against which we fought in the Second World War, and which partly supplied the justification for the wars against Iraq.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Responses to “Private Eye on the Government’s Proposal to Introduce Secret Courts”

  1. Mike Sivier Says:

    Reblogged this on Vox Political.

  2. richardbroomhall Says:

    Reblogged this on this 'n that.

  3. Private Eye on the Government’s Proposal to Introduce Secret Courts | Beastrabban’s Weblog | this 'n that Says:

    […] Private Eye on the Government’s Proposal to Introduce Secret Courts | Beastrabban’s Weblog […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: