The Daily Mail and the left don’t often find themselves on the same side, but when they do it is worth paying attention. The Daily Mail is absolutely right (not a sentence you will catch me typing on a regular basis) to splash on “Britain’s first secret trial”.
Two men, known only as AB and CD, have been charged with terrorism; journalists were forbidden from disclosing even this simple fact until newspapers overturned a gagging order. But for the first time in centuries – and in a direct challenge to the Magna Carta of 1215 – the entire trial will be held in secrecy.
But it is the precedent that should disturb us. It isn’t one of the authoritarian anti-terror laws passed by New Labour or the coalition responsible for this assault on justice, it is being justified with provisions under common law. Yet once this precedent is established and a centuries-old tradition of justice broken, it will be much easier to hold trials in total secrecy in future.
Many of the freedoms and liberties we have today were won at huge cost and sacrifice by our ancestors. If we allow them to be discarded without a fight, then what is to stop the powerful coming for other rights? This is how freedom is eroded, when we accept the comforting rationale of a state that will quite happily amass power at the expense of individual liberties until it is prevented from doing so.
Yes, let’s have a debate about preserving our security. If the state wishes to provide terrorists with ready-made propaganda, then flaunting its attacks on civil liberties is one way of going about it. Our governments have served as highly effective recruiting officers for terrorism in other ways, too – whether it be backing the Afghan Mujahideen in the 1980s, backing various hellish regimes such as the witch-beheading gangsters running Saudi Arabia, or the invasion of Iraq which handed vast swathes of the country to al-Qaida. These are actions that imperil our security. But if we want to ensure our safety, cracking down on civil liberties is as counter-productive as it is wrong-headed.