Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Secret courts scrapped

Last night I was pleased to hear, from a reliable sources, a rumour that the Home Office proposals for secret courts and secret trials were to be scrapped.

And, lo and behold, today the story appears that they will indeed be scrapped - thanks to pressure from the Liberal Democrats.

So, as I go into work on Tuesday morning (the day of the week that science says is the most depressing) I'm very glad I've got something like this to put a smile on my face.

Because, put bluntly, the arguments for having secret courts were complete codswallop.

The idea was that some of the evidence used in trials relating to national security might be so sensitive that it couldn't be disclosed in a public courtroom. That's why there's already legislation in place for such evidence to be heard in a closed session with just the judge, and the lawyers for the defence and the prosecution, present.

But the Home Office, led as it is by the wonderfully authoritarian and inept Theresa May, decided that this wasn't enough. What they wanted was for trials where not even the lawyers defending the accused could hear the evidence against them - instead they would rely on a government appointed advocate to argue about the evidence without the accused ever knowing anything about what the evidence against them was.

And the problem with something like that is that  is that it would have created a system open to abuse. A system where trials are held in secret and where the accused have no idea what the charges or evidence agains them are, and no chance to argue against it, is one worthy of the Soviet Union or of Nazi Germany and not one that should have any place in a supposedly modern democracy.

But now, thanks to Lib Dems vetoing the proposals, the plans for secret trials will be scrapped and the only big change the legislation looks set to make is making sure that judges, instead of politicians, are the one's who decide whether or not evidence should be heard in closed sessions in civil cases.

Of course, these changes really don't go far enough. A liberal government should be rolling back the police state legislation of the last government rather than simply stopping it from being extended. Which is why, other than ID cards and issues like child detention, this government has been something of a disappointment to people who care about civil liberties - mind you, given some of the proposals the tories have come up with, I'm still very glad that the coalition has meant that they haven't been able to implement them.

So, all in all, a fairly good bit of news - and reassuring to see that on civil liberties at least the party remains as resolute as ever (apart from accreditation for our own conference - something which I'll blog about later).

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