Philippe Sands Quits the LibDems
Like many young, lefty international lawyers, one of my intellectual heroes is Philippe Sands. He is a remarkable scholar and an equally gifted advocate, and he puts both to good use no matter how unpopular the position or client — as his representation of the Libyan government in its challenge to the admissibility of the case against Saif Gaddafi demonstrates. Above all, he has always struck me as a deeply principled person. So I am not surprised in the least that he has decided to quit the Liberal Democrats to protest the party’s unconscionable support for the UK’s new justice and security bill, which creates a system of secret courts in which individuals who allege that they have been tortured and kidnapped will not be able to see the government’s evidence against them. Here is a snippet of his open letter in The Guardian:
After the London attacks of July 2005 the Lib Dems stood firm against the idea that the “rules of the game” had changed, committed to respect of human rights for all. They opposed executive authority, secrecy and the rise of the “security state”. In government, on many issues, that position has been maintained. But to my great regret, last week the parliamentary group was whipped to vote in favour of the introduction of secret court hearings in part 2 of the justice and security bill. If adopted, the bill will put British judges in the invidious position of adjudging certain civil claims under conditions in which one party will not be entitled to see the evidence on which the opposing party relies. Last year Lib Dem members voted overwhelmingly against this. They did so again at their conference on Sunday. Their approach was informed, reasonable, principled and correct. Why was it ignored?
This part of the bill is a messy and unhappy compromise. It is said to have been demanded by the US (which itself has stopped more or less any case that raises ‘national security’ issues from reaching court), on the basis that it won’t share as much sensitive intelligence information if the UK doesn’t rein in its courts. Important decisions on intelligence taken at the instigation of others are inherently unreliable. We remember Iraq, which broke a bond of trust between government and citizen.
Secrecy begets secrecy. I have listened to all the arguments, and concluded this is a compromise too far, neither necessary nor fair at this time. The point has been made eloquently in recent days by Dinah Rose QC and Jo Shaw. Their principled arguments have long had my full support and so I have joined them in resigning from the Liberal Democrats.
Kudos to Philippe for standing up for what he believes in — and more importantly, for what is right.