Secret inquests back on the table

By Laura Miller

Justice minister Jack Straw has reintroduced government plans for closed door inquests, held without a jury, in cases involving aspects of national security.

The plans will form part of the coroner and justice bill.

The reintroduction led Liberal Democrat shadow justice secretary, David Howarth to call for an immediate halt to the plans.

“It is high time that the government let go of these dangerous proposals,” he said.

“Many of us had hoped that ministers had seen sense after the plans were dropped from the counter terrorism bill.”

If the government succeeds with the controversial measure it could mean future cases like the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes would not be made public.

Such a lack of transparency is unacceptable, said Mr Howarth.

“Inquests allow the government to be held to account for deaths at the hands of the state. Holding them in secret, with coroners hand-picked by the government, would be another blow to our civil liberties,”

The move is expected to draw strong criticism and parliamentary opposition.

The joint human rights committee has labelled the proposal “an astonishing provision”, and has pointed to contradictions with the European convention on human rights, which states adequate and effective investigation must be provided where a person has been killed by force by a state agent.

Ministers in favour of the plans argue they are necessary so inquests can be held in cases which involve material that shouldn’t be made public in the interests of national security.