The most important point is that Clarke will provide a magic cloak of protection for any minister or government agency that wishes to cover up a wrong, most significantly for members of the intelligence services. Under his law, evidence that British officials were involved in the rendition and torture of British resident Binyam Mohammed could have been suppressed. Evidence that emerged last autumn that British spies arranged the rendition of two Libyan opposition figures to Gaddafi's people for torture may not, if Clarke gets his way, be heard in an open British court, because the minister will be able to declare the material "sensitive" or "against the public interest".
Those are vague concepts. Anything can be thus defined: the death of someone in police custody, the contamination resulting from a nuclear accident, the details of a government contract, or security lapses in a government laboratory, to say little of the matter of gentlemen with Muslim names being conveyed to some fetid, bloodstained cellar. Executive accountability will be reduced, not improved.
Once Clarke's apparatus is in place, it is likely to encourage a sense of immunity in officials, possibly the idea that they are above the law. The result will be a worse-run country, where the state grows incrementally more heedless and irresponsible – exactly the argument I made against, among other things, Jack Straw's proposal for secret inquests...read more