The terror watchdog barks back - a response from David Anderson QC

The UK's independent terror watchdog responds to criticisms by Jo Shaw asking why only a small sample of cases were examined to determine the merits of the government's secret court legislation.

David Anderson
7 May 2013

Thanks for the opportunity to respond to this piece by Jo Shaw. And thanks Jo for being fair-minded enough to credit me with at least some persistence in seeking the basis for the government’s assertion that there are some cases in which the option of closed material proceedings is needed.

As I told the JCHR, that persistence paid off to the extent that I was introduced in outline to 21 cases and then in unrestricted detail to seven of those. To master each of those seven cases, by reading all the papers (including confidential legal advice) and interrogating counsel instructed, was a time-consuming business. It persuaded me that there was a small category of cases in respect of which it was preferable that the judges should have a closed material option. I never asserted that this was the case in relation to all 21: indeed it was always my assumption that the government had chosen their best examples to show me.

Could I have pressed for more? Probably I could, and with unlimited resources I would have done.  But the important thing, as it seemed to me, was not to identify the precise number of problem cases at a single point in time, but rather to ascertain whether the category existed at all.  Having satisfied myself that it did, I concentrated my efforts both publicly and privately on arguing, with some success, against what seemed to me the most obviously excessive elements of the Bill.

Justice and Security was, for me, an extra-curricular interest. My statutory functions, performed alone and on a part time basis, concern not proposals for legislation but the regular annual review of the UK’s complex and extensive anti-terrorism legislation. Have a look at the reports and recommendations on my website, or follow me on twitter.

It is a precious legacy of more innocent days, without international parallel save in Australia, that an independent outsider should be given full access to the secret state and required to produce reports which must in turn be laid promptly before Parliament. Some will always think I could do it better, and they will be right. But my interrogations of secret files and secret people are more effective if informed by lawyers, journalists, NGOs and others with first-hand experience of the terror laws. I have no intention of losing my bark, and with your help I will not.

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Paolo Gerbaudo Sociologist and political theorist, director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King’s College London and author of ‘The Mask and the Flag: Populism and Global Protest’ and ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy’, and of the forthcoming ‘The Great Recoil: Politics After Populism and Pandemic’.

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Spyros A. Sofos Researcher and research coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and author of ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’, ‘Tormented by History’ and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks'.

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