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Issue: 20 November 2009
Government plan
for secret inquests
Ministers vow to press ahead with
controversial proposal despite Lords defeat
The inquest into the death of Jean
Charles de Menezes, shot in error by
police at Stockwell Tube station, could
have been held in secret under the
new rules.
Plans to introduce secret inquiries
into controversial deaths from which
the public and bereaved families
could be banned are to be pushed
through the House of Commons by
the Government.
Last month ministers suffered a
humiliating defeat for the proposals
in the House of Lords, but insisted
that they were “clear” that “harmful
material” must not be made public,
and would reintroduce the measures
in the Commons.
The new powers would allow
She said: “Inquiries are a thing of It comes less than six months
them to turn inquests like that of
the state and inquests are the thing of after Mr Straw dropped proposals
Jean Charles de Menezes or those
citizens. The Government could have to hold sensitive inquests behind
involving the deaths of British soldiers
come up with the correct conditions to closed doors without juries from the
into secret hearings.
guard against secrecy without setting Bill following widespread opposition.
Civil rights campaigners, peers
up a parallel inquest system. It’s not a But the new plan has been quietly
and MPs attacked the Government
good argument to say, ‘But if you knew added to the Bill, in the shape of a
for trying to sneak through an “abuse
what we knew you wouldn’t object.’” provision allowing for an inquest to be
of power” which struck at the heart of
The measure, buried in the suspended and a secret inquiry held
Britain’s ancient inquest system.
Coroners and Justice Bill, gives the in its place.
Baroness Miller, the Liberal
Lord Chancellor, currently Jack Straw, The Government says that
Democrats’ home affairs spokeswoman
absolute discretion to order a secret the change is aimed at allowing
in the Lords, whose party tabled an
inquiry in place of a public inquest. It inquests to go ahead when sensitive
amendment which succeeded in
could mean that inquests that might information needs to be considered
removing the secret inquiry clause, expose the negligence of government by the inquiry.
said that the Government had suffered or a public body or embarrass ministers The Government pledged to
a “self-inflicted” defeat. or foreign allies could be censored. overturn the Lib Dem amendment.
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