David Cameron must take pains not to add to his list of grievances after David Davis set out his opposition to government proposals to introduce secret courts into British justice.
While Davis is defending a key principle in our legal system, there may be more here than meets the eye. Let’s not forget, the Haltemprice and Howden MP is also a former contender for the top job in the Conservative Party.
A move against this policy may also be a move against the Tory leader, at a time when the Leveson Inquiry edges ever closer to No 10’s doorstep, Labour climb in the polls and the European growth versus austerity argument looks to isolate the prime minister.
Cameron’s speech on the economy tomorrow could be a chance to re-define the lines of debate on Europe’s austerity backlash, but there is still a risk he might end up looking out of touch on a string of other issues. Secret courts are just one of them.
So-called closed material procedures (CMPs) could be used for some civil law cases brought against the government, on the grounds that US intelligence agencies would no longer share information with their British counterparts.
The proposal has already attracted criticism from lawyers and humans rights groups. David Davis joined in with an op-ed in The Guardian.
Having also launched the Reform Section 5 campaign today – protecting the right to use “insulting words or behaviour”, in a somewhat unlikely pairing with rights activist Peter Tatchell – Davis looks on top of his game.
“The government […] is going to ask us to introduce a secret procedure into our civil courts for the first time in our history,” he writes. “It will allow the covering up of crimes – such as complicity in torture – that may have been carried out in our name.”
As Davis states, the government’s main argument has been undermined after the CIA’s press officer denied that disclosures from the Binyam Mohammed case had damaged transatlantic intelligence sharing.
The critics of CMPs fear that, in a move characteristic of our post-9/11 democracy, the government and security services would prefer to limit public knowledge of allegations made against them.
Established modes of law and rights are made to look out of fit with the modern world – with its new-fangled threats of underwear bombers, cyber-warfare and hacktivist threats. Our poor old liberal democracy is made to look like an elderly John Bull shivering behind the curtains, frightened by the brave new world outside, while its politicians damage the rights they claim to preserve.