By Paddy McGuff
Morning Star, 14 November 2012
A former head of MI5 waded into the escalating row today over the government's hugely controversial plans for secret trials.
Former director-general of the secret service Baroness Manningham-Buller claimed that intelligence relationships between Britain and other countries could be "seriously jeopardised" unless judges were allowed to hear evidence in secret. Ministers claimed that the introduction of secret trials is vital in the interests of national security and the government was being forced to pay out millions of pounds in civil claims as evidence cannot be submitted to the courts.
Opponents of the measures, outlined in the Justice and Security Bill currently before Parliament, accused the government and secret service of attempting to place themselves above the law and cover up complicity in torture.
Writing in the Times, Ms Manningham-Buller said the Bill "aims to close a legal loophole that seriously jeopardises the intelligence relationships between the UK and other countries. "Unless this loophole is closed, the flow of intelligence from other countries, which, according to the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, has already been reduced, will slow to a trickle," she said.
The former spy chief also reiterated the government's claims that as secret material cannot be heard it was being forced to settle and that this was "immensely damaging to the reputation of the government and the intelligence and security agencies, which cannot defend themselves."
But legal action charity Reprieve executive director Clare Algar said: "Dame Manningham-Buller's comments suggest she doesn't fully understand the immense powers of cover-up which this Bill would grant to the government. Ministers would be able to push cases into secret courts simply by claiming 'national security' was involved. Judges would be forced to give way, losing their long-established, independent role of weighing the balance between the interests of justice and the need for security. The bar would be significantly lowered for keeping evidence of wrongdoing hidden from public view. Unfortunately, past revelations over Britain's role in torture and rendition have shown us that we cannot always trust our governments to do the right thing. If this Bill is not designed to help cover up such embarrassing revelations in future, it seems a remarkable coincidence that this is precisely what it would enable ministers to do."