Outrage at government plan for secret inquests

Ministers vow to press ahead with controversial proposal despite Lords defeat

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 night 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 them to turn inquests like that of Jean Charles de Menezes or those involving the deaths of British soldiers into secret hearings.

Civil rights campaigners, peers and MPs attacked the Government for trying to sneak through an "abuse of power" which struck at the heart of Britain's ancient inquest system.

Baroness Miller, the Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokeswoman in the Lords, whose party tabled an amendment which succeeded in removing the secret inquiry clause, said that the Government had suffered a "self-inflicted" defeat.

She said: "Inquiries are a thing of the state and inquests are the thing of citizens. The Government could have come up with the correct conditions to guard against secrecy without setting up a parallel inquest system. It's not a good argument to say, 'But if you knew what we knew you wouldn't object.'"

The measure, buried in the Coroners and Justice Bill, gives the Lord Chancellor, currently Jack Straw, absolute discretion to order a secret inquiry in place of a public inquest. It could mean that inquests that might expose the negligence of government or a public body or embarrass ministers or foreign allies could be censored.

It comes less than six months after Mr Straw dropped proposals to hold sensitive inquests behind closed doors without juries from the Bill following widespread opposition. But the new plan has been quietly added to the Bill, in the shape of a provision allowing for an inquest to be suspended and a secret inquiry held in its place.

Liberty, the human rights group, said the illiberal powers would prevent bereaved families from discovering the truth about the death of a loved one.

Liberty's director of policy, Isabella Sankey, said: "It beggars belief that this rotten policy has been resurrected. It is thoroughly perverse for a Government that has spent over a decade lecturing the public about victims' rights to attempt to exclude bereaved families from open justice. When will New Labour's obsession with secret courts and parallel legal systems end? There is no accountability without transparency."

Deborah Coles, of the charity Inquest, said she was dismayed that the Government wanted to end the right to public inquests for all deaths: "This is yet another attempt to shroud in secrecy the details and actions of the most serious conduct of state agents."

The Government says that the change is aimed at allowing inquests to go ahead when sensitive information needs to be considered by the inquiry. Ministers point to the case of a 24-year-old Londoner, Azelle Rodney, shot dead by police in 2005. More than four years after he was killed, his family is still waiting for an inquest to establish the exact circumstances of his death. The case has raised concerns about the accountability of armed police and has fuelled accusations of a cover-up of a shoot-to-kill policy.

Mr Rodney was in a car with two other men what was stopped by armed police who had been tailing their vehicle. An officer fired eight shots into the side of the car at Mr Rodney, who was in the back. Six bullets hit him in the face, head, neck and chest. Police maintain that his behaviour made the officer believe he was about to fire a weapon.

The other two men were jailed after admitting possessing guns in the car. There is no evidence that Mr Rodney was holding a gun when he was shot.

The Rodney family has been told that an inquest into his death cannot go ahead because it would lead to the release of sensitive information about police operations. In 2007 the coroner presiding over a pre-hearing into the killing said police editing of information made under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 – which covers information obtained from covert surveillance devices such as telephone taps and bugs – meant it was not possible to hold a meaningful inquest.

Last night the Government pledged to overturn the Liberal Democrat amendment. A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said it was important that an inquiry into any death should be able to hear all the evidence, even if it meant that part of the hearing should be closed to the public. She said to do otherwise would be a breach of a family's human rights. She added: "But it is also important that evidence is not allowed to harm police operations or the national interest."

She said: "Liberty's complaints are really about the terms of the Inquiries Act, which has been on the statute book since 2005. We have tabled some minor amendments in this Bill to give better effect to the policy, but those amendments do not lead to the lack of transparency and accountability that Liberty sets out."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
news
Sport
Danny Cipriani of England breaks clear to score his second try
rugby
Life and Style
New research says leaving your desk can help you to avoid serious illness
health
Arts and Entertainment
tvSPOILER ALERT: Like a mash-up of 28 Days Later, Braveheart, The Killing and Lord of the Rings, this GoT episode was a belter
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Trainee

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Cloud ERP Solution Provide...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral