The article below is from The Guardian, (and the Daily Mail late-addition) printed in full and in it’s original appearance, dated Nov 15th 2012. It is a follow-up story on the progress of the, what many refer to as, Orwellian Bill (George Orwell, the alias name, who wrote the famous 1984 & Animal Farm, etc; with fashionable phrases such ”Big Brother’‘ or ”War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength”). After the Article, the reader will find a few selected newspaper’s and other platforms reading that might be of interest.
Crucial battle against UK ‘secret courts’ begins in earnest
House of Lords vote looms on measure, which carries the Orwellian title of justice and security bill
The House of Lords on Monday is due to vote on one of the most contentious but important pieces of legislation to come before this parliament.
The measure, which carries the Orwellian title of justice and security bill, has provoked the most disingenuous and misleading defence by its supporters in the government and among the securocrats.
Urged on ministers by MI5 and MI6, the bill is designed to prevent any significant information in the hands of the security and intelligence agencies from ever being disclosed in civil court hearings in Britain.
It was triggered by the disclosure by British judges two years ago of CIA information which showed that MI5 and MI6 knew that Binyam Mohamed, a UK resident and terror suspect, had been unlawfully subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment.
The concerns of MI5 and MI6 were compounded by British citizens and residents demanding compensation for their involvement in their incarceration in Guantánamo Bay and other prisons to which they were secretly transported by the CIA.
The government has cleverly left Kenneth Clarke, the minister without portfolio, in charge of steering the bill through parliament even though he is no longer Ministry of Justice. It clearly hopes that Clarke’s reputation as a liberal will help the measure get passed.
Thus, in a recent speech to Policy Exchange, the centre right thinktank, Clarke insisted that the bill would mean that more, not less, intelligence information would be disclosed in court and the security and intelligence agencies would be more, not less, accountable.
His arguments were echoed by Eliza Manningham-Buller, former head of MI5 and now a crossbench member of the Lords. “No material that is currently open will be hidden from view by these proposals”, she wrote in the Times newspaper today (14 November). Moreover, the inability of the security and intelligence agencies to answer the allegations of complicity in torture made against them — because it would mean disclosing “secret material” — was “immensely damaging”, she said.
Under the bill, MI5 and MI6 would be able to answer back, but only in secret. Those claiming wrongdoing would not be able to hear the security and intelligence agencies’ response. They would not be able to see, let alone respond to, claims against them made by the agencies. Nor would their lawyers. Under the bill, their interests would be represented by vetted “special advocates”.
And the bill’s supporters should not get away with the claim that nothing now in the public domain would in future be kept secret. The point of the bill, as far as the spooks are concerned, is that it would prevent any disclosure in future of such damaging material of the kind heard in the Binyam Mohamed case.
The role of ministers and MI6 in rendering Libyan dissidents into the hands of Gaddafi’s secret police — information which came to light only as a result of the bombing of Tripoli — would be protected by the bill if the government had its way.
This week, parliament’s joint committee on human rights (the JCHR, made up of MPs and peers) released a devastating report on the government’s proposals. The justice and security bill, it said, was “a radical departure from the UK’s constitutional tradition of open justice and fairness” and from “fundamental common law traditions”.
Ministers claim that under the bill judges would have the last word in deciding whether evidence in civil cases should be heard in secret. In practice, a senior minister, a secretary of state, would decide.
The JCHR report quoted David Anderson QC, the government’s independent review of terror legislation, who told the committee: “In fairness to the government, under the procedure devised by the bill the judge does have the last word. The only difficulty is that that word is dictated to the judge by the secretary of state.”
The secretary of state — a senior minister — would simply tell a judge that information could not be disclosed because it related to “national security”.
Yet the term, “national security”, is a very elastic one. For example, in a recent case involving alleged British involvement on deaths caused by CIA drone attacks, the government’s lawyer told the court: “If you damage foreign relations, you damage national security…”
Furthermore, a cabinet minister could increase “by order” the scope of the bill simply by amending the definition of “relevant civil proceedings”. What the JCHR calls this “wide-ranging power” could, it warns, allow ministers to extend secret courts to inquests — something that was in the original green paper on the bill before opposition from military families and the British Legion persuaded the government to drop it.
Information protected by secrecy should be very narrowly defined, the JCHR said. It would cover material that would reveal the identity of British intelligence officers and their sources and capability, and some foreign intelligence material provided by another country on the promise of confidentiality.
However, the “control principle” whereby only the original holder of the information could authorise its disclosure could not be applied as a matter of course, the JCHR said.
The absolute exemption from disclosure laid down in the bill, it added, was “not consistent with the government’s commitment to the rule of law”.
Such an exemption was demanded by the US after the court judgment in the Binyam Mohamed case. As far as the US was concerned, Britain is still “on probation”, Anderson told the JCHR.
It is now up to the Lords, and then the Commons, to decide whether to protect basic principles of open justice or pave the way to even less accountability — and greater mistrust — of the security and intelligence agencies, as well as succumbing so readily to pressure from the US.