Tough titty Madam

Secret trials would enable justice to be done in cases where the Government would otherwise have to pay compensation, the former head of MI5 says.

Writing in The Times today, Baroness Manningham-Buller says that because secret material cannot be used in court, the Government is forced to settle claims whose merits have not been scrutinised by a judge.

The proposals in the Justice and Security Bill would allow closed trials in civil cases where sensitive security-related material was involved. These had made some people baulk in the belief that the only justice was open justice, the former head of MI5 writes.

“But at the moment there is no justice at all in civil cases where individuals sue the Government for compensation claiming, say, mistreatment,” she writes The article, the first public expression by the former MI5 chief of her views, comes as the Bill enters its final stages in Parliament. The core of the problem, she says, is that there are “genuine secrets on which lives depend”.

If you\’ve evidence that cannot be used in open court then that evidence cannot be used in open court. That\’s fine, we all know that there really are secrets which have to remain secret.

But if you cannot use the evidence in open court then that does indeed mean that some known bad \’uns get off. Because the idea that all, without exception, get open trials, following the rules of evidence, of its contestability, the right to confront an accuser, test said evidence, is more important than that some bad \’uns get off.

You might not like that idea: many millions, almost certainly a majority of the country does not like that idea. But it\’s still true and it is the bedrock of what makes this a free and liberal land.

The courts and the law are not to make sure that the baddies get what is justly and righteously theirs, good and hard. They are there to protect us against them, the citizenry against those with power.

After all, it is our own legal system of which one of the insiders of it said better ten guilty men go free than one innocent be convicted.

That people you know are bad \’uns go free is indeed irritating: infuriating even. But protecting us from them means it has to be proven beyond reasonable doubt. And if you cannot show us that proof, well, they go free then and there\’s an end to it.

2 comments on “Tough titty Madam

  1. It doesn’t even require secret evidence. It is entirely possible to know that somebody has committed a crime but be unable to produce the necessary evidence to enable a safe conviction to the criminal standard of proof. Been there, advised against the trial, seen them found ‘not guilty’. Which was the correct, if wholly inaccurate, finding.

  2. Sorry Tim but you may have the end of the stick. It is the government that is the defendant, not a “known bad’un”. Manningham-Butler is complaining that the government cannot defend itself in open court for fear of revealing evidence that should be secret. The government therefore settles with the plaintiff. M-B and the government want a secret trial to hear the secret evidence.

    The plaintiffs’ complaints allege government complicity in and/or facilitation of torture, inhumane treatment and the like.

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