Monday, February 11, 2013
Last week MPs revived the corpse of the 'Secret Justice' Bill. Here we spell out the full terrifying implications of life in... Secret Britain
Even the British Conservatives seem to be looking at the old Communist East Germany as the model for Britain
While all attention at Westminster was focused on whether to allow gay marriage, this Coalition Government did something furtive – something that is not only much less liberal, but coldly terrifying.
Under the cover of the furore, it quietly disinterred the corpse of its ‘Secret Justice’ Bill. This Bill creates extraordinary new legal powers to keep official dealings hidden from us. It changes all the comforting certainties about the rule of law in Britain.
Most of us have some kind of grasp of what is officially called the Justice and Security Bill. But it can be hard to imagine what it would actually mean in practice.
The Government wants us to think its scope is limited to rare and arcane disputes, perhaps born of foreign battlefields. Or ones that sound as if they belong in spy novels, involving CIA ‘black ops’ and ‘dark jails’. But if it becomes law, the effects will be felt much closer to home.
The shocking outcome of the recent Hillsborough Inquiry, bringing justice at last to 97 families? If similar circumstances were to arise again, it is likely that justice would never be delivered: if the families tried to sue, alleging a bungled police operation and a subsequent cover-up, the Bill would give the authorities the ability to keep the truth concealed.
A case brought against the Ministry of Defence by families of soldiers killed in a foreign deployment, alleging their loved ones’ equipment was defective? This is not mere hypothesis. Many argue now that the British death toll in Afghanistan has been higher than it should have been because some of our military vehicles were too vulnerable to roadside bombs.
With this law enshrined, the Government could insist on a closed, secret hearing. There, it could present evidence denying such claims. No one could challenge it, because no one directly affected by the case would ever know what it was.
Or take the very real, current scandal of the women green activists who unknowingly entered sexual relationships with undercover police officers.
Those defending such a case could be entitled to a secret hearing, at which they could claim that such tactics were entirely justified, on the basis that the women posed some kind of threat to national security.
This is the reality of a society regulated by secret justice: a legal system weighted irredeemably in favour of those in power. The legislation had previously been watered down considerably, and wisely, by the House of Lords. Now, it is not just as bad as it was when introduced last year. It’s even worse.
Under the resuscitated Bill, matters involving State security will usually be heard at secret ‘closed material procedure’ hearings. They will be attended only by security-vetted ‘special advocates’. Those involved in cases against official bodies will be permanently unable to know about the evidence deployed against them.
The new revised draft, the product of the final session of the Bill’s committee stage, was forced through by a majority of one. The Ulster Democratic Unionist Ian Paisley Jnr cast the critical vote.
This took place at precisely the same time as the same-sex marriage debate was happening in the main Commons chamber, which is why all this went virtually unnoticed.
The consequences are draconian. The Government’s actions, prompted by intense lobbying from MI5 and MI6 security chiefs, mean there is now less than three weeks to stop the enactment of a ruthless measure that amounts to a charter for cover-ups.
A real recent example of a case that will be affected is that of Abdelhakim Belhadj. He is the Libyan opposition leader abducted with his family from Bangkok with the help of British intelligence, then tortured by Gaddafi’s brutal regime for years.
Like other victims of ‘extraordinary rendition’, Mr Belhadj, who has never been alleged to have committed a single hostile act against Britain, its citizens or its allies, is suing the UK Government. But the official evidence of what was done in our name will be deemed far too ‘sensitive’ to be aired in open court.
Once the Bill becomes law, his chances of success are remote. And the prospects for enforcing the merest whiff of accountability on the agencies responsible for torture cases, and, indeed, a vast range of official activity from national security to the country’s ‘economic wellbeing’, will be just as distant.
Previously, the Lords had passed two crucial safeguards to stop this. The first said judges could grant the Government a secret hearing only if other alternatives had already been considered, like, for example, asking permission from the judge in a case to withhold sensitive evidence altogether, under the longstanding system of ‘public interest immunity’. The second Lords safeguard was more fundamental.
It stated that judges could allow a secret hearing only after balancing the Government’s demand for one against the historic legal principle that justice must always be open.
Last week, with the passage of Amendment 55, moved by the junior Justice Minister James Brokenshire, both these safeguards were swept away. ‘In practice, it will now be very difficult for a judge to resist a closed hearing,’ one legal analyst said yesterday.
Under this Bill, it is now possible a prisoner in a British jail who tried to challenge his detention in the courts would remain incarcerated without hearing the evidence against him.
The battle is not over. Pending is a High Court action by The Mail on Sunday which seeks to make public a secret judgment issued in an Afghan alleged torture case two years ago, which resulted from an earlier form of secret hearing, now deemed illegal by the Supreme Court.
As this newspaper has pointed out, the Bill will inevitably lead to a body of secret law and secret legal precedents. Our case also asks the court to issue guidelines on how such secret judgments should be reviewed, and whenever possible, published.
Meanwhile both Labour and several influential Tories are determined to try to reinstate the Lords’ safeguards when the Bill returns to the full House of Commons later this month.
David Davis, the leading Conservative backbencher, said: ‘It is appalling that the Government has reneged on its promise to allow full judicial discretion as enacted by the Lords.’
Andrew Tyrie, the Tory who campaigned for years against torture and rendition, says: ‘Not only must all of the Lords’ amendments remain in the Bill, they need to be underpinned by further improvements.’
Mr Davis added: ‘What the Government did last week is a massive dilution of the protections put in place by the Lords. I can only hope they will summon up the courage to reinstate them.’
It is a hope anyone with even the vaguest interest in open justice would surely share.
British free speech campaigners condemn Press regulation proposals as an 'unacceptable attempt to hold the Government to ransom'
Free speech campaigners yesterday condemned a House of Lords amendment to introduce statutory regulation of the Press as an ‘unacceptable’ attempt to ‘hold the Government to ransom’.
Earlier in the week, an alliance of Labour, Lib Dem and rebel Tory peers passed the proposal to introduce an arbitration service for members of the public who have been wronged by the Press.
The amendment to the Defamation Bill raised the possibility that some of the most controversial aspects of Lord Justice Leveson’s report on the Press would become law by the back door.
Prime Minister David Cameron opposes statutory regulation of newspapers.
But Index on Censorship has condemned the amendment, proposed by Labour peer Lord Puttnam, the film producer.
The group, which has been campaigning to defend freedom of speech for 40 years, warned the proposal threatens the ‘vital’ Defamation Bill.
Kirsty Hughes, CEO of Index on Censorship said: ‘It’s unacceptable for Labour Peers to hold the government to ransom by injecting statutory regulation of the Press into a vitally needed Defamation Bill.
‘These two very different issues should be dealt with separately. The government must not drop the Defamation Bill, but continue the all-party talks on Leveson.’
Index on Censorship is one of three charities behind the Libel Reform Campaign, which has fought for three years to reform the libel law.
Jo Glanville, director of writers’ rights group English PEN, also criticised the amendment, saying: ‘This would chill the Press and free speech and is exactly what we’ve tried to avoid in the Bill. 'The Government must reject these amendments and continue with the Bill.’
AR: ‘I Have the Right to Refuse Service’: Restaurant Owner Turns Away Homosexual Group After He Learns What They Advocate
An Arkansas-based gay right’s organization is claiming discrimination after the owner of a restaurant cancelled the group’s reservations.
“It was a bump in the road, but it wasn’t a slap in the face,” River Valley Equality Center Director Erin Fowler tells
ABC 4029, explaining that they had hoped to host a fundraiser at the restaurant.
Fowler claims Sisters Gourmet Bistro in Van Buren, Ark., cancelled their reservations after its owner discovered what the group stood for.
“I called them and told them that I — we’re not going to have that at Sisters, we had no plans for that and there were no reservations to hold any kind of fundraiser or anything like that,” said owner Richard Hodo.
“I told them that I do not support their cause, that if they want to do that that’s their business. I do not care, but I don’t support their lifestyle and their cause,” he added.
Hodo told an organizer with the River Valley Equality Center that he runs a private business and that he reserves the right to deny any group or person service — whether that means saying “no” to white supremacists or a gay rights group.
“What I told the lady on the on the phone, look I said if the KKK came here and wanted to hold a fundraiser rally and all that, I wouldn’t allow that either,” said Hodo.
“It felt like he was comparing us as equals with the KKK and we’re about completely opposite things,” said Sarah Sarrubbo, an organizer with the River Valley Equality Center.
Hodo says he refuses to back down. “This is a private club and I have the right to refuse service to anyone,” he said.
The River Valley Equality Center says that because of this incident, and the dent it has put their fundraising efforts, they will stage an “awareness event” nearby.
Senior Australian conservative, Julie Bishop, says women can't have it all
IT'S the question women tie themselves in knots over, but Julie Bishop has a simple answer: "No, you can't have it all."
The deputy opposition leader, who has no children, said she understands the dilemma facing young career women and revealed the difficult choices she has made during a high-flying career in law and politics.
As Attorney-General Nicola Roxon announced she was resigning to spend more time with her daughter, Ms Bishop said she agrees with a US academic who argues it's impossible for women to have top careers and be mothers unless they are rich, self-employed or super human.
"I'm in the Anne-Marie Slaughter school - women can't have it all," Ms Bishop said. "They can have plenty of choices, but at the end of the day, they choose something which means they can't have something else."
Ms Bishop, 56, married Perth property developer Neil Gillon in 1986, but they
split after five years. She had always expected to have children, but said the circumstances didn't arise.
"I've never been though a grieving process and now I wouldn't, because what's the point?" she says. "I'm in my mid-50s. I'm not having kids, there's no point lamenting what was or what could have been.
"I was 40 when I went into politics and the window closes pretty quickly at 40. So politics is pretty much my life.
"I feel incredibly lucky that I've had the kind of career that is so consuming that I don't feel I have a void in my life."
Ms Bishop said one friend missed her freedom after having a baby at 37.
"At 37, that's when I decided to go off to Harvard and did all these things, and it was very much about what I wanted to achieve in my life," she said. "It can be challenging either way."
In her most frank interview yet, Ms Bishop also discussed her relationship with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, defended CSR over its handling of asbestos victims and revealed she planned a shake-up for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.