An impressive display of openness and freedom

… in a secret trial. What’s that about?

The Guardian reports on the conclusion of the terrorism trial of Erol Incedal, who was convicted last year of possessing a bomb-making manual, but now acquitted at a second trial on the more serious charge of plotting a terrorist attack.

On each occasion, the evidence was carefully presented in one of three sessions. Parts of the case were in open court, with the press and the public free to come and go; other parts were held behind locked doors, before a jury whose members were warned that they could go to jail if they ever divulged what they had heard; and parts were held in intermediate sessions, in the presence of the jury and a small group of journalists who are prohibited – at least for the time being – from reporting what they learned.

This is definitely not an ideal situation — nobody claims that it is — but I am hugely impressed by the fact that so much care was put into finding a solution to difficult problems of secrecy and criminal justice, making an effort to provide information to the public wherever possible. Including a jury. Not to mention the fact that the state was willing to accept an acquittal, something that is unthinkable these days for a terrorism trial in the US. The trial judge “had originally acceded to a demand from the prosecution that the entire trial be heard in secret, and that Incedal, and the man arrested with him, Mounir Rarmoul-Bouhadjar, be identified only as AB and CD.” This was overturned by an appeals court, after criticism by MPs and civil-rights groups.

It’s ironic, but news like this revives my belief that the spirit of liberty survives in the UK. It’s not that I necessarily think that the courts made the right decisions, but the fact that they are treating civil rights as important counterweights to the demands of the security services, worthy of substantial effort and special procedures.

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