“Well, they’re running the country, aren’t they? I mean, the reason I’m writing about the security services is that there is no democratic control of them whatsoever. And now it seems the judiciary is joining in.” The judgment certainly appears to support the central thesis of Hare’s latest trilogy of BBC films, about an MI5 agent disillusioned by his employer’s rampant abuse of power.
PO box justice: what secret Home Office court says about British openness
As the Guardian’s revelations show, this tribunal’s so-called scrutiny of the security services is a living shame to the UK
This revelation about the tribunal says a lot about the compulsive secrecy of the British establishment, which Nick Pickles, head of the excellent Big Brother Watch, likens to an addiction – a morbid condition of some sort. But it also, I am afraid, says something about British complacency. Our trust in these people to do the right thing behind closed doors on matters where the state’s interests are so aggressively defended is really alarming. That so few complaints against the intelligence agencies have ever been upheld at the tribunal, and just a few paltry sums in compensation have been paid, is all you need to know about the justice available there. We should see it for what it is: a secret operation, designed to stifle legitimate complaints against the authorities. In the past 15 years the legal system has embraced secret immigration tribunals, secret courts and the IPT, in which lawyers and claimants have little, if any, idea of the processes to which they are party and subject. This is a living shame to the United Kingdom. The idea that our politicians go about the world lecturing others on the rule of law or standards of justice is absolutely preposterous. But it is a hypocrisy that is permitted to exist because we do not hold their feet to the fire and demand to know why money is spent on ring-fencing their power.
You may not like Edward Snowden. You may think him a villain rather than a hero. But few people – even within the closed worlds of intelligence – deny that he has brought into the open matters that demanded to be discussed. The more the revelations spilled into the open, the clearer it became that these were issues of the greatest importance – bearing on the private sector, the US and UK’s digital economy, international relations, individual privacy and the integrity of the web itself. There are huge implications for business, individuals and the courts, as well as the intelligence agencies themselves, in what has been disclosed. How could politicians really imagine they could sit this out – and what would that silence say about politics itself? In the space of 48 hours, the dam has broken. First came a thoughtful speech by the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper. Although characteristically cautious, in order to avoid criticising any of the agencies directly, she accepted that the UK’s creaking statutory protections need to be updated for the era of Big Data, and also damned the passivity of the three commissioners who were supposed to be keeping an eye on the surveillance undertaken by different arms of the state.