At the end of last month, Amnesty International warned of ‘a terrible day for British justice’ after the justice and security bill, which extends so-called ‘secret court’ powers into the main civil courts in England and Wales, passed through the House of Lords.
The bill has nothing to do with ‘justice’ or bolstering our nation’s ‘security’. It’s about providing cover for government mistakes.
‘It is wrong in principle, and will not deliver justice,’ wrote the international lawyer Professor Philippe Sands QC recently. ‘It will be used to shield governmental wrongdoing from public and judicial scrutiny under conditions that are fair and just. The bill threatens greater corrosion of the rights of the individual in the UK, in the name of “national security”.’ Sands resigned from the Liberal Democrats in protest at their support for the ‘secret court’ proposals along with Dinah Rose QC and Jo Shaw, a former parliamentary candidate who led the campaign against the bill within the party.
The bill’s provisions allow for so-called ‘closed material procedures’ and the use of special advocates, currently deployed by specialist immigration and intelligence tribunals, to be extended to the mainstream civil courts. Secret evidence (not made available to the claimant, let alone the public) would be relied upon to defend serious allegations in cases involving national security issues. The only people allowed to be present would be the judge, the government and a government-appointed special advocate. Claimants might never know the full allegations against them.
Critics fear that the provisions could mean that a claim for habeas corpus, an ancient common law right for a prisoner’s release from unlawful detention, could fail without the detained person knowing why, because evidence used against them is deemed so sensitive it must be kept secret.
While the architect of the proposals, Ken Clarke, originally insisted that this wouldn’t happen, the Cabinet Office last month confirmed that secret court proposals could be invoked in habeas corpus claims where a ‘judge has found that their use would be in the interests of the fair and effective administration of justice’.
The prospect of secret courts needs to be understood as part of a relentless onslaught on our legal rights. Within days of the bill passing through the Lords, devastating cuts to the civil legal aid scheme were brought into effect, slashing £350 million from the £2.2 billion scheme and removing entire areas of law from the scope of publicly-funded law (employment, housing, immigration, welfare benefits and so on). A few days after that, justice secretary Chris Grayling was at it again, unveiling another round of cuts worth £220 million.
He is proposing that people with a disposable income of £37,500 or more will not be entitled to state-funded legal advice if they are arrested and charged. Plus, if you are eligible for legal aid you will not be able to choose your lawyer as you can now (you will have the duty solicitor instead). Grayling is also floating the possibility of a ‘residency test’, so that migrants to the UK do not get ‘automatic access’ to civil legal aid.
The government’s ‘Transforming Legal Aid’ consultation contemplates a regime of competitive tendering for defence lawyers, with tenders subject to a price cap of 17.5 per cent below the existing rates. The idea is to reduce the number of contracted legal defence firms from 1,600 to around 400 providers. That’s ‘transforming’ as in demolishing.
Finally, this latest consultation envisages scrapping legal aid for prisoners challenging decisions relating to their treatment or the conditions of their confinement (saving the taxpayer £4 million). Phillippa Kaufmann QC and Edward Fitzgerald QC argued recently that the legal status of prisoners is ‘a mark of [a country’s] civilisation and humanity’. The pair state that Grayling’s cuts are ‘yet a further demonstration that he and his government have no respect for the rule of law, that they are happy to trade such a fundamental democratic principle for what is nothing more than a small amount of political capital’.
Illustration: Martin Rowson
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice.
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform