Friday, November 13, 2009

Independent judiciary damages national security

The idea of an independent judiciary is a bedrock of modern liberal democracy. But according to a top UK Foreign Office official, it is a threat to "national security":

A top Foreign Office official has accused high court judges of damaging Britain's national security by insisting that CIA evidence of British involvement in torture must be revealed.

The extraordinary intervention in a fierce dispute between David Miliband, the foreign secretary, and the high court has come from Simon Manley, the FCO's director of defence and strategic threats.

In an unprecedented assault on the judiciary, he claims that demands by two judges that the CIA material should be disclosed have already harmed Britain's intelligence and diplomatic relations with the US. In a statement, Manley says the judges have "served to undermine confidence within the US in the UK's ability to protect the confidentiality of diplomatic exchanges and will inevitably have a negative impact on the candour of their exchanges with UK officials".

The impact of the judges' rulings "also undermines our relationships with other foreign services … and co-operation on operational matters in the field is also at stake", he adds. "What we are facing is an erosion of trust."

The subtext: instead of upholding the rule of law, the courts should instead be subservient to the government, and make decisions according to the foreign policy interests of the government-of-the-day (which may include "avoiding embarrassing our friends who have committed torture"). Its the sort of view I'd expect to see from a third-world dictator, or indeed a tinpot Fijian general, not a top public servant in a democracy.

If courts ruled as Manley desired, we would not have justice, or law. We would simply have the oppression of the state. That may be acceptable to the authoritarians in Whitehall, but it is not acceptable to the vast majority of the citizens of the UK, who clearly take those ideas far more seriously than their government.