Detention without trial (again: sorry!): a letter in The Independent
Special courts are the answer to ‘house arrest’ dilemma
Sir: The Conservatives and Lib Dems (and reportedly many Labour back-benchers) are right to reject Charles Clarke’s proposals for a new law replacing the present regime under which non-British nationals may be detained without trial by order of the Home Secretary.
It now looks as if when Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy meet the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary on Friday to try to hammer out an agreed way forward following the Law Lords’ condemnation of the present law, Tony Blair may offer as a "concession" the admissibility of intercept evidence (from phone tapping etc) in the criminal courts, in exchange for the Tories and Lib Dems dropping their opposition to the rest of Charles Clarke’s "house arrest" proposals.
Mr Howard and Mr Kennedy should reject any such deal. Quite apart from the difficulties raised by David Raynes (letter, 14 February), admissibility of intercept evidence would make very little difference to the number of suspects who could be tried in court instead of detained by the Home Secretary. The much more difficult problem is evidence which, if disclosed to a suspect, could identify the informer who supplied it, endangering both the informer and the security services’ ability to recruit informers in future, a vital weapon against terrorism.
If we are to return the power to deprive people of their liberty to the courts, where it belongs, and remove it from an already over-mighty executive, the least bad solution is to give a special criminal court the power, when absolutely necessary and subject to stringent safeguards including trial by jury and proof beyond reasonable doubt, to withhold certain kinds of evidence from the accused, hearing it in closed sessions where the accused’s interests are represented by a security-cleared special advocate (as happens now in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission).
This breaches the important principle of the right of the accused to know all the evidence against him: but the only practical alternative is something like the Clarke proposals, which still breach the principle of full disclosure but in addition breach the even more important principle that no one should be deprived of his liberty, without trial, by order of a politician.
Sir BRIAN BARDER
"We fight on: we fight to win" — © M Thatcher (just before giving up)