“Orwellian Secret Courts in the UK: Britain on the Brink of Tyranny”
“Judicial trials to be held in secret”
“It was also to apply to living accused persons who would be denied under this Orwellian draft the right to represent themselves or have their own lawyers represent them. Nor will they be allowed to know what they are accused of. In the Soviet Union this was perfectly normal. In the place of legal representation the state will appoint Special Advocates who will not be under any responsibility to represent the accused, or explain to that person of what he is accused, and nor will they be under any responsibility to offer a defence.
“The Bill was savaged by the Lords, but returned to the Commons with all the Lords’ amendments struck out. On the day of the vote on gay marriages it slipped through the vote in the select committee with the vote of one backwoods Ulsterman rushed in at the last minute. (The vote was held at the same [time] as members were in the lobbies voting on the gay marriage Bill). … This law when passed, as it will be, can then be applied to all and any offence, even as lowly as a traffic accident. Accused persons will never be told of what they are charged and of course it is very unlikely they would be found ‘not guilty.’”
The British press is now very quiet on this, though the Daily Mail published an article on 10 February headed ‘Last week MPs revived the corpse of the ‘Secret Justice’ Bill. Here we spell out the full terrifying implications of life in… Secret Britain’ (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2276327/Last-week-MPs-revived-corpse-Secret-Justice-Bill–debating-gay-marriage-time-noticed-Here-spell-terrifying-implications-life–Secret-Britain.html). Interestingly, their sister paper, The Mail on Sunday, is about to take legal action to make public a secret judgement 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 (http://www.leighday.co.uk/News/2013/January-2013/Secret-evidence-challenge-by-Mail-on-Sunday). Also, political campaigner Chris Mullin gave a warning in The Guardian website on 28 January, headed ‘Justice and security bill: last chance to back away from secret justice’ (http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2013/jan/28/justice-security-last-chance-secret-evidence).
And now Big Brother Watch has launched a campaign, asking people to write to their MP (http://www.bigbrotherwatch.org.uk/home/2013/03/write-to-your-mp-about-the-justice-and-security-bill-today.html). Someone commented “What’s the point?”. OK, write to your local newspaper then.
Whistleblowers gagged – and there’s worse to come
Another piece of legislation which could make it difficult to expose possible government crimes is a proposed amendment to the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act, as proposed by the Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking. This would make it easier for the police to seize confidential material from journalists, and it would weaken protection for whistleblowers (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/feb/13/whistleblowers-press-new-police-powers). A leading barrister warned of a potential breach of European human rights law, the article states. But now the Government intends to do away with European human rights law (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/04/theresa-may-human-rights-stunt). It looks as if the question of UK membership of the EU is being used as cover for this.
An editorial in The Guardian four days later drew attention to the general vulnerability of whistleblowers, as in the case of a former chief executive in the National Health Service, Gary Walker, who had been told that he would have to pay back any compensation payment arising from his dismissal if he spoke out (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/feb/17/journalistic-sources-law-editorial). But the problem was bigger than that. ‘NHS spends £15million (the same as 750 nurses’ salaries) on gagging 600 whistleblowers’ announced the Daily Mail (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2282600/NHS-spends-15million-750-nurses-salaries-gagging-600-whistleblowers.html), saying that this had cost the lives of 1 200 patients. The new legislation will make it even more difficult to blow the whistle, even when many lives are at stake.
“Democracy cannot work when secrecy exceeds its proper limits”, states the Guardian editorial, adding that hospitals, banks, corporations, meat producers and police forces alike must be open to scrutiny. I would add even humble membership associations to that list; that is something we can all do something about. Whenever we are met with indignation, having asked such basic questions as “Have these accounts been audited?”, “What is the basis of your proposal?”, or “How much money do we have?”, or in trying to raise perfectly legisimate issues, we need to stand up to such negative reactions. You’re standing up not just for your cause, but for your just cause of democracy.”