THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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There is nothing Conservative about this Government

Anthony Peto QC: A very un-British Bill – my response to Robert Buckland MP.

Conservatives are supposed to defend ancient rights. In their hands the great principles of English Law such as "innocent until proven guilty" and the rules of Natural Justice should be much safer than with progressives who openly seek to sweep away ancient rights to build a new order.

Yet it was John Major who began the present un-conservative trend when he abolished the right to silence - a key element of the presumption of innocence. If a man is accused, it is for the prosecutors to make the case against him. Nothing should properly be inferred from his refusal to co-operate. So it used to be, but no more.

And now it's Ken Clarke who is sweeping into the trash can of history the principle of open justice. He is seeking to introduce secret courts in circumstances where "national security" is at stake. What does "national security" mean in such a context? Anthony Petro QC tells us in the linked article that evidence about a confession having been extracted by torture
...was successfully suppressed by the government on the grounds that it would damage national security...
Not exactly the most encouraging example.

Clarke tells us that we need secret courts to protect our intelligence sharing relationships with other countries. David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of Terrorist Legislation, has branded that a "scare tactic".

Former DPP Lord Maconald has said that 
Mr Clarke’s comments look like a smokescreen for plans which are aimed not at keeping the British people safe, but at sparing the embarrassment of the security services when they get mixed up in wrongdoing. Instead of promoting this thoroughly un-British legislation, which is designed to make our courts secret as though we were living in Europe in the 1930s, Mr Clarke and his colleagues in government should concentrate on holding the security agencies to account when they break the law.
Lest you think that these are just the voices of lily-livered sympathisers with our enemies, consider the words of the former top legal advisor to the British Army in Iraq, Colonel Nicholas Mercer
The justice and security bill has one principal aim and that is to cover up UK complicity in rendition and torture. The bill is an affront to the open justice on which this country rightly prides itself and, above all, it is an affront to human dignity.
The fact that some of those individuals who are complicit in rendition and torture can not only assist in the drafting of the bill but also vote to cover their tracks is a constitutional scandal.
The bill attacks the sacred principle of the Rule of Law that "be you never so high, the law is above you." It removes a citizen's right to bring a civil action against high officials for violations of their personal rights. As Anthony Peto QC says, 
These rights are so fundamental that for centuries they have been called the rules of “natural justice”.  This brand of justice has “Made in England” stamped all over it. It is our proudest and most enduring national product. This Bill would tarnish the brand for ever.
Could there conceivably be anything less "Conservative"?

Why can't our security services, like those in other countries, give evidence in court? If that threatens the secrecy of their activities, they can give evidence from behind a screen and via a voice changer, provided the judge is duly satisfied of their status. Then their evidence could be tested, they could be cross examined and justice could be done. Yet the British State prefers to screen them from scrutiny. It prefers to suppress evidence of their wrong-doing. It is entirely out of its box; a self-regarding beast operating in its own, not the national, interest. 

I have never been more sure that the greatest enemy of my liberty is the British State. Nor more sadly aware that this does not vary according to the politicians in charge. There could be no better evidence than this odious bill in which the state seeks to protects its own at the expense of those who are supposed to own it. It rather suggests it thinks it owns us.


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I agree.


I was not saying you were endorsing existing wrongs, but you know that, why even go there?

What I _was_ saying is that the justice and security bill - that you and are absolutely right to be concerned about?

That is not the first example.

There is something just like it already in daily use in the UK that can affect anyone who has relatives who are not adults.

Any one who objects to the bill should also be worried about the existing secret courts in the UK. They seem to be operating under most everyone's radar and what happens can be quite sinister like Orwell.

They are a "charter for cover-ups" one the local councils and social services are absolutely exploiting and human rights groups seem strangely blind to.

Civil rights groups are saying, "The measures in the bill are an attack on open and accessible justice, they threaten the right to a fair trial and the rule of law. Journalism at its best uncovers the truth and the bill intends to hide the evidence."

All that is true. It is true about the trojans you are worried about that are knocking at the front door and it is absolutely true about the horse they left that is inside the gates that no one seems to have thought about or noticed.


Thanks for chipping in to answer that question, DP. I had the chance to tell one of John Major's political advisors a few years ago that it was all he will go down in history for. She seemed genuinely surprised. We have such low grade people in political office these days that they often don't understand the significance of what they do.


Dear Mr Moody

"The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 provides statutory rules under which adverse inferences may be drawn from silence."

This was passed under the premiership of John Major.


Buck Moody

I thought it was the odious Blair who abolished the right to silence?


I agree. I am not endorsing all existing wrongs by drawing attention to a new one!


you say the conservatives are looking to introduce closed courts? There have been unjust "secret" courts in the UK for years.

The ones without rights are children and their parents.

They often can't even legally complain to their members of parliament about the procedings without risking arrest.

Maybe we should also complain about this existing injustice that could threaten most families in the UK.

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