Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

Lib Dem conference: rebellion brewing on ‘secret courts’

The Liberal Democrats do love a good policy motion, and the tradition at most party conferences is for the attending media circus to stay well away from the debates and votes on the conference floor as they are rarely game changers. But this afternoon, the party’s leadership could face its first defeat on the conference floor when delegates debate a motion on the Justice and Security Bill from 5pm.

The motion itself says the proposals for closed court hearings ‘did not form part of either the Liberal Democrat or Conservative manifestos in 2010, nor the Coalition Agreement’, and calls on Lib Dem MPs and peers to press the government to withdraw part II of the Justice and Security Bill, or to vote against it in parliament.

But the party leadership has tried to neuter the debate by tabling an amendment to be moved by Lord Marks QC which reads as follows:

Conference calls on Liberal Democrats in Parliament to:

1. Secure that the principles of open justice and natural justice are respected and protected.
2. Ensure that closed material proceedings can only be used as a last resort in cases that would otherwise be incapable of being tried.
3. Limit the use of closed material to those issues which could not be effectively determined without the use of such material and to the bare minimum necessary to safeguard national security.

The amendment completely removes any reference to parliamentarians, thus making the motion just another ‘Lib Dems are cross’ declaration that will gain little attention. Activists are expecting it to be rejected by members on the conference floor, though, which will make it the first defeat for the leadership in the hall this season.

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