It is ‘unfortunate’ that we need secret organisations like Special Branch, MI5 and MI6. But because of the needs of our country over the past 150 years or more, specifically, and the way our governments have directed the affairs of our country and waged wars recently, we do. That is the reality. That is Real Politik.
It would of course, in the view of the ‘thinking right and right oriented left’ – a phrase some may view as oxymoronic – be naive, nay simpleminded, to suggest that this may not necessarily be so going forward if we are more circumspect, intelligent and patient in our thinking before we wage yet another ill planned war and, instead, take a more liberal, realistic and community minded pattern of behaviour towards other countries in the world. I suspect for that to happen we need time to forget about the not always glorious British Empire and our ‘perceived place’ in the world pecking order. This may be an uphill struggle. As a nation (and a surprisingly large number of people in our nation) we appear to revel in jingoism, illiberal racism with a dash of xenophobia and the ability to distort the facts of history thrown in for good measure. Land of Hope and Glory? Rule Britannia? Jerusalem? Well, I would not regard the wealth of a nation partly built initially on the profits of the slave trade as particularly glorious. We have as a nation done many great things – but, please spare me from the absurd jingoism and irrational myopia of those whose thinking is all too ‘Little England’.
Our values and mores have changed over the years. I would venture the opinion that our values and mores have changed for the better. Justice, an imperfect mechanism I accept, has been administered more fairly, more compassionately, less politically, than say two hundred years ago. The death penalty has gone. Concepts of rehabilitation have pushed hard at the Victorian concepts of punishment through hard often pointless labour. We are signatories to The European Convention on Human Rights. We have our own Human Rights Act. We have introduced free health care, employment laws, protective laws for the vulnerable – and justice has become more open. The last Labour government – a government one hoped would introduce a more liberal caring society, but failed, eroded many of our civil liberties hard one over centuries of protest and intelligent debate. The present government, antipathetic to Europe, now wishes to disregard The Rule of Law – or at least cherry pick and ignore the Rule of Law which applies to Prisoner votes. The present government also wishes to strengthen the power and remit of ‘secret justice’.
Why the plans to subject inquest jurors to such intrusive security vetting?
There are now plans to have ‘developed vetting of juries’. If you haven’t already read Simon Crowther’s article in The Guardian: Why the plans to subject inquest jurors to such intrusive security vetting? may I encourage you to do so. It makes for uncomfortable reading.
In essence the plan is for secret inquests to be judged by secret juries who have been vetted by the security services.
Simon Crowther writes:
Jurors who sit in the government’s proposed secret inquests will be subject to the most intrusive security vetting used in the UK.
This security clearance, known as “developed vetting“, is identical to the procedure they would face if they themselves were joining MI5 or MI6. It involves the investigation of the most intimate areas of a juror’s personal life, including their sexual behaviour, family relationships, finances and political views….
He ends his piece with this statement:
As evidently understood by the author of the government’s impact assessment, many people will fail or choose not to undergo such intrusive clearance. Those who pass may then have to decide on the state’s involvement in a death, hampered by the knowledge that very same state holds records of their most uncomfortable secrets.
Justice must be seen to be done. The holding of trials in secret, for reasons of national security, should be a rare and judicially oversighted event. The proposed ‘developed vetting’ of jurors to serve on secret inquests is a proposal which I hope will be kicked so hard into the long grass – to use a cliche beloved in 2012 – that it gets lost forever.
I suspect, in any event, there will be few British summoned for such jury service prepared to submit to or survive the skeletons in the cupboard of M15 and M16 vetting and answer 53 pages of questions and submit to a thorough three hour interview. I would certainly find it fairly straight forward to convince M15 and MI6 that I am not a suitable candidate. I suspect I would start the interview – assuming they were daft enough to summon me after reading through my answers to the 53 pages of questions – by asking them to go easy with me on the waterboarding. That should do the trick?