Replacing inquests with secret inquiries?-update

Some of you may recall that the controversial secret inquest plan was dropped in a statement by Jack Straw only to rise from the ashes in a different form as part of the Coroners and Justice Bill.

Inquests into some deaths could be held in secret in future after Parliament approved the controversial proposal in the Coroners and Justice Bill on Thursday 12th November 2009.

Apparently conservative peers dropped  their opposition in the House of Lords on Wednesday leaving the way open for the government to push the proposals through the Commons the next day.  Conservative MP's effectively abstained.

Following opposition last year, concessions had been made including giving the Lord Chief Justice, our most senior judge, the power to veto any requests for secret inquests without juries and also the power to decide the judge to be appointed to preside over any secret inquiry.

Ministers say secrecy may be needed in some cases for national security.

The government have advocated the proposals on national security grounds and want a secret inquest when evidence obtained by intelligence agencies plays a prominent role in the inquest.

Why the sudden rush you may well ask?  Well, despite concern that the plans give the government too much power, many MPs remain worried that holding some inquests in private rather than in public and with the presence of a jury, will be too secretive. Thursday the 12th of November was the last day of the current parliamentary session! Students of the parliamentary legislative system will realise that there was no more time left for amendments and debate that is why!

Pressure groups such as Inquest or Liberty, remain sceptical about why the government has felt the need to tamper with the jury system for no good reason. Could it be that the government wish to avoid embarrassment. 

But at least as Shadow Justice Secretary, Dominic Grieve, comments "It effectively gives the most senior judge in the country a veto not just over the appointment of the judge but over whether this process takes place".

It will be interesting to see how this law works in practice and whether relatives and families feel their concerns and interests are being met.

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