56% of Lib Dem members urge secret courts plan to be voted down outright

by Stephen Tall on November 18, 2012

Lib Dem Voice polled our members-only forum recently to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 550 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

Only 3% of Lib Dem members back current plans for secret courts

LDV asked: Parliament is currently debating Part II of the Justice and Security Bill which makes provision for closed material procedures (CMPs) – more commonly known as ‘secret courts’ – to be used in any civil proceedings (except, at present, for inquests) in cases where national security is said to be at risk. Opponents believe the powers will enable ministers, rather than judges, to manipulate the way evidence is withheld or presented in the courts – depriving claimants of a fair trial. The government claims the reform will enable judges to hear a greater range of national security cases enabling suspected terrorists to be tried using the full evidence available, including sensitive intelligence. What is your view?

    56% – I oppose Part II of the Justice and Security Bill and believe it should be voted down outright

    32% – I oppose Part II of the Justice and Security Bill but am open to supporting it if it can be amended by Lib Dem MPs to include increased safeguards

    3% – I support Part II of the Justice and Security Bill and believe it should be approved as it stands

    8% – Don’t know

Our survey shows that a clear majority (56%) of Lib Dem members oppose outright the Coalition Government’s plans for ‘secret courts’, with a tiny 3% supporting them. A significant minority, 32%, are potentially open to supporting Part II of the Justice and Security Bill — but only with increased safeguards to ensure those accused of crimes are subject to a fair trial. This was the line pushed by a number of Lib Dem parliamentarians (including Julian Huppert and Tom Brake) when the issue was debated at conference.

What our survey could not test, of course, is what safeguards might be considered sufficient by those Lib Dem members who said they were persuadable. For instance, on Friday Ken Clarke himself (who’s steering the legislation through Parliament) tabled a last-minute amendment conceding that secret hearings cannot be extended further solely by ministerial decree — this was a major loophole in the legislation noted here on LibDemVoice by Nick Thornsby.

My guess is, though, that it will take more than just that to persuade most Lib Dem members that this isn’t a serious extension of the state. As Jo Shaw observed caustically when moving the motion of outright opposition to secret courts in September, “Kafka’s novel was a warning – not a manual”.

70% oppose Draft Communications Data Bill (aka Internet Snoopers Charter)

LDV asked: The Draft Communications Data Bill – which proposes to extend the powers of law enforcement agencies and others to have access to communications data (such as Skype and instant-messaging services) – was announced in the Queen’s Speech. From what you have seen and read, do you support or oppose the Bill as it is currently set out?

    14% – I support the Draft Communications Data Bill

    70% – I oppose the Draft Communications Data Bill

    16% – Don’t know

I previously asked this question in July — the results were almost exactly the same: a thumping majority (70%) of Lib Dem members oppose the Draft Communications Data Bill, with just 14% in favour of it. Julian Huppert will have his work cut out trying to amend the Bill in a way that assuages the fears of Lib Dem members that this isn’t just another example of the state (willingly abetted by the Tories) extending its reach further into the lives of private individuals.

  • Over 1,200 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Some 550 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 28th and 31st October.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.