'Secret inquests' plan back on table

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Controversial plans to hold inquests in secret will be brought back today.

The changes were dropped from counter-terrorism laws last year alongside plans to detain suspects for 42 days.

Juries, relatives and the press could be excluded from inquests under the measures to be outlined by Justice Secretary Jack Straw.

The plans have provoked opposition from military families who fear relatives may be excluded from inquests into the deaths of their loved ones.

The Coroners and Justice Bill will also contain sweeping changes to murder laws.

Battered wives who kill their husbands will be able to claim a partial defence of "fear of serious violence".

But anyone who discovered their partner was having an affair could not claim they had been "seriously wronged".

Current laws require victims of domestic violence to have acted on the spur of the moment, but the new law would allow them to cite the "slow burn" of attacks over a period of time.

A successful defence would see them punished for manslaughter rather than murder.

Ministers believe the law has made it too easy in the past for men to kill their wives and claim they were provoked by her infidelity, but restricted defences for women with abusive partners.

They have said the changes will not allow "cold, calculating killers" to get away with their crimes.

The two partial defences to replace provocation will be killing in response to a fear of serious violence and killing in response to "words or actions" which caused the defendant to have a justifiable sense of being "seriously wronged".

Minister for Women Harriet Harman has said: "There's never any justification, however painful things are in a relationship, for a man who kills his wife to say: 'It's not my fault I killed her."'

"These men who have killed their wives, because she's going to leave him or she's having an affair, that centuries-old defence, it's long overdue, and we're going to abolish it."