Life in an Earthquake Zone

In about a week’s time (on 16 June), an event is due to take place in London which, according to the Guardian, would be unique in “modern British legal history”. On that day a criminal trial is due to begin whose proceedings are expected to take place in absolute secrecy.

According to the Guardian, until last week it had “not even been possible to report the existence of the forthcoming trial against the two men, known only as AB and CD.” Then last week, “three appeal court judges lifted a gagging order allowing reporting of a hearing challenging the [plan for a secret trial]”.

At last week’s appeal court hearing, counsel for the crown, Richard Whittam, QC, “told the court the case involved clearly exceptional circumstances which had led to the “exceptional procedures” that had been approved by Mr Justice Nicol on 19 May.”

“The court was told that the crown has sought and obtained legal orders on the grounds of national security, arguing that if the trial were held in public the prosecution might not proceed with the case.”

Mr Whittam said, “While the crown entirely supported open justice, the exceptional nature of the case made it necessary for the unprecedented procedures to be put in place.

“It is quite clear that there is jurisdiction for the defendants to be anonymous and there is jurisdiction for a court to sit in private. Whether or not it is appropriate to do so is evidence-dependent.”

The unprecedented secrecy of this case had been challenged by “The Guardian and other media organisations” in the person of “Anthony Hudson, representing the media”.

Mr Hudson said, “No order has ever been made which requires an entire criminal trial to be in private with the media excluded and the defendants unnamed. We submit that the orders made involve such a significant departure from the principle of open justice that they are inconsistent with the rule of law and democratic accountability.”

If this secret trial goes ahead, “The men will be tried by a jury but no report of the case will be made public and no members of the media or public will be given access to the court.”

We’re living in very strange times. It seems that hardly a day goes by without learning of some new horror about our own trusted leaders, or about the other supposed guardians of our supposedly great country. It feels like living in a permanent earthquake where the very ground beneath your feet is continually shaking and everything around you is crumbling and on the verge of collapse.

The state prosecutor, Richard Whittam, claims “the crown entirely supported open justice”. Why did he say that, at a time when he was clearly doing the very opposite thing? Of course it could be said he was just doing his job, obeying orders. That would explain his presence at this shameful event and the duties he was performing; but there was no compulsion on him to tell a lie, because very obviously the crown does not entirely support open justice or the crown would not be trying to make history by establishing the precedent of a secret court and providing it with the relatively respectable mantle of “British Justice”.

THERE IS NO SITUATION WHERE A TRIAL SHOULD TAKE PLACE IN SECRET!

The details about this planned kangaroo court are obviously sketchy. We’re told that,

“AB is charged with engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorist acts between February 2012 and October 2013. He is further charged with CD of being in possession of documents or records containing information of the kind likely to be used by a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. This relates to the pair’s alleged possession of a document entitled “Bombmaking”. CD is also charged with possession of an improperly obtained UK passport.”

There is nothing in this information that suggests a reason for why the proposed trial should be carried out in secret. Many, many people have been previously charged with acts of terrorism in open British courts, and their charges have often been based on far more substantial evidence than being in “possession of a document entitled “Bombmaking”; and the suggestion that CD being in “possession of an improperly obtained UK passport” deserves a secret trial is just jaw-droppingly surreal.

THERE IS NO SITUATION WHERE A TRIAL SHOULD TAKE PLACE IN SECRET!

I think that what’s happening here is an attempt to create a truly sinister precedent; and the crown prosecutor supports that view, for he said it’s “necessary for the unprecedented procedures to be put in place”. The fascists who have long been powerful forces in British politics have long resisted open justice; hence the occasional suspensions of habeas corpus, routine internment-without-trial in Northern Ireland, the fairly recent attempt to allow the police to detain people without charge for up to three months, and the long-established custom of dragging out judicial inquiries for years and even decades.

Justice is what ordinary people, properly informed, say it is. It is not what some one percenter sitting in secret, says it is.

The Guardian and the media representative Mr Hudson made the point perfectly clearly: “national security could not be pursued without regard to the values of the society it was seeking to protect.”

A mere seventy-odd years ago Winston Churchill, whom no one could mistake for being a pinko liberal of any kind, said these words:

“The power of the executive to cast a man into prison, without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgement of his peers, is in the highest degree odious, and the foundation of all totalitarian government…”1

So even Churchill might be appalled by what’s taking place under our very noses. Whether the secret trial actually happens or not, the fact this abominable event has gone even this far, together with the fact that it’s attracted almost no mainstream media attention, is simply horrific. It’s truly like living in an earthquake zone, or in the shadow of an active volcano.

  1. Quoted in Hegemony or Survival by Noam Chomsky, p. 27. []

John is a writer and political activist based in England. He can be contacted through his website. His main contribution comprises three free-to-use works-in-progress: The People’s Constitution, The School of Kindness, and EnMo Economics . Read other articles by John.