Friday, 20 February 2015

Secret Criminal Trials in Britain? Impossible? Well think again. – Tim Veater

Secret Criminal Trials in Britain? Impossible? Well think again.(1)
I earlier flagged up the precedent being set, to allow the government secrecy in
civil proceedings.(2) Now for the very first time the government wants to
prosecute two individuals for terrorism charges in the absence of any member of
the public or press.
It first wanted total secrecy that the trial was even taking place but that has
been challenged and is now subject to appeal.
If the appeal is rejected and the government’s application upheld, it will mean
that in neither civil nor criminal proceedings will the fundamental principle
of, “Not only justice needing to be done, but SEEN to done”, be guaranteed to
the parties involved. the decision on secrecy will be virtually at the
discretion of the government that may wish to cover up its own malfeasance. It
opens up the ugly door of disposing of anyone posing threat whether imagined or
not.
It also raises the question of post-trial. Will it mean that the process of
appeal will also have to be secret, or curtailed altogether? And presumably if
the case is “proved”, and individuals incarcerated for potentially long periods
of time, this will be in secret also, for fear of making the circumstances
public also?
And what of the basic right of “trial by jury”, of not “being deprived of
liberty or possessions without a hearing before one’s peers”? Will that now be
curtailed or qualified to allow secrecy to be ensured or will the jury be
“stacked”?
So it now seems we live in a state in which, in either civil or criminal
proceedings, the public can be deprived knowledge about what is doing, or in the
case of the litigant or accused, of knowing that at least the circumstances of
their case will be reported. Once the principle is abandoned what is to stop
further deterioration to the point at which any person can just disappear at the
whim of whatever government is in control? In other words “the thin end of the
wedge” argument.
The issue may appear to many to be irrelevant and theoretical. However it could
not be less so. Particularly at a time when the D-Day landings are being
commemorated with all its attendant rhetoric of lives lost in the cause of
freedom, it is easy to be distracted from the question why men sacrificed their
lives, if not to be free from the shadow of injustice and unconstrained
tyrannical government?
Reasons can always be advanced for secrecy in matters of criminal trials.
Methods already exist and are used to protect those who might be endangered by
the process but total secrecy at the behest of government is a step too far –
yet another sinister development revealing the true agenda that appears to be
being pursued under the cover of the pomp and circumstance of the State Opening
of Parliament and the well-deserved pride in the selfless heroics of countless
young men. Was it all a charade? Was it all for nothing? END.

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