One cheer (but not three) that Ken Clarke has been forced to back down in his Justice and Security Bill over inquests being held in secret which would mean that information held by MI5 and MI6 and GCHQ could be heard only in secret. But the principle of secrecy is still deeply embedded in the Bill and thoroughly flawed. It still remains the government’s intention that evidence and claims made by the security agencies would be presented to the court, but not disclosed to individuals seeking damages or making complaints.
Consequently they won’t be able directly to challenge the agencies except through ‘special advocates’ who have been vetted. This defies the principle which has always been enshrined in English law that the accused must be presented with the evidence adduced against them. Indeed many of the special advocates have themselves taken exception to the proposed legislation.
The security agencies have their fingerprints all over this bill. Essentially the original bill was written by MI5/MI6 to protect their own interests which is to keep everything they do absolutely secret, even of course when what they are doing is amoral and illegal. And as a result of cases now being brought in the High Court, we now know that quite a lot of what they want to keep secret has nothing to do with ‘national security’, but rather is definitely amoral and illegal, and viciously so.
Only because of the Libyan revolution and documents fortuitously found afterwards in a Libyan ministerial building by US Human Rights Watch, we now know of MI6 involvement in the rendition (kidnap) of two Libyan men, Abdul Belhadj and Sami al-Saadi, secretly flown to Tripoli and tortured in Gadaffi’s dungeons. Even with the modifications to the Bill extracted from the Ministry of (?) Justice (had Ken Clarke really read the bill?) by the public uproar over the undermining of justice, it is still quite likely will get away with concealing the details of these cases because ministers can still apply for secrecy and judges may be persuaded to grant it.
The real origin of this latest travesty of justice is the Binyam Mohammed case which exposed MI6 collusion in torture by the CIA. The real pressure to force through the Bill however comes from the US threatening to withdraw some of its intelligence sharing with the UK – a form of blackmail to which the UK government has shamefully succumbed since no doubt the US already only supplies the UK with what it wants the UK to know.
And all this from the same UK government that is now determined that the security agencies will have access to all communications from ordinary citizens whether by telephone, mobile, text or internet – presumably because MI5/MI6 are already constantly hacking this data, but now want their practices to be legalised.