The Liberal Democrat conference delivered a blow to Nick Clegg today by overwhelmingly rejecting the Government’s plans for “secret courts” that would hear evidence in private in civil cases.
Two leading Liberal Democrats resigned from the party in protest at the leadership’s support for the controversial Justice and Security Bill, which would allow courts to protect the identity of members of the security services by sitting behind closed doors.
The strong opposition means the measure could run into further trouble in the House of Lords, even though Mr Clegg has already won some concessions from the Conservatives.
Jo Shaw, who proposed the hostile motion, announced she was quitting the party after 12 years, claiming the leadership had “abandoned liberal values for the privileges of power”. She added: “In opposition I know the Liberal Democrats would be spearheading the campaign against this illiberal, repressive Bill. The fact this party has chosen not to do so when in government is deeply troubling for anyone who cares about a free society.”
Dinah Rose, a QC who represented Binyam Mohamed, the British-resident Guantanamo Bay detainee, also quit. She described the measure as “an attack on the heart and soul of the party”. She added: “The right to a fair hearing, and to open justice, are among the most fundamental of all our constitutional rights.”
Lord McNally, the Liberal Democrat Justice Minister, said: “The security services have themselves to be protected. I know it is a difficult decision.”