Simon Carr: Call me paranoid, but I'd be wary of Jack's charms

Sketch: Had it been possible to hold inquests in secret, would the Menezes case have been held in public?
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It's the charming ones we have to watch. Jack Straw has a pleasantly partisan way with the House, but he has depths – and maybe we wouldn't want to wade out too deeply.

Talking to one of his admirers, I received a list of whistleblowers who had been caught and prosecuted, while within reach of friend Jack. That struck a cautionary note.

A further casualty is this Bill of his providing for inquests to be held in secret. But why not?

A thought experiment. Imagine a series of judgments from Oxfordshire coroners on the deaths of servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan: "These, well-equipped, well-supplied, well-armed, fully armoured, totally supported soldiers were victims of suicidal terrorists despite everything that a high-spending government and its wise, far-sighted ministers could do. And they should stop complaining because they have more helicopters than any modern soldier could possibly need."

If that had been the tenor of the verdicts, this Straw clause wouldn't be in the Bill – the ability to hold inquests in secret, and without juries. The last I heard, they could dismiss a coroner mid-inquest, if they wanted.

It's a big step – a rapid shuffle forward in the Grandmother's Footsteps they've been playing for years.

Paul Farrelly asked how secret hearings would help get at the truth. James Gray wanted families to be represented by barristers to even out the odds. Jeremy Corbyn wanted legal aid for families. But it was Chris Mullin who made the point with which all us paranoids hastily agree.

Had it been possible to hold inquests in secret, would the Menezes case have been held in public? After the innocent Brazilian had been shot dead, the Commissioner immediately wrote to the Home Secretary asking that no inquiry be held. Won't that happen, now that it can happen?

"I don't deny the temptation," Jack said. The temptations are legion.

The Bill also provides for very wide data-sharing powers. It allows the state to share any data with anyone in any country "in furtherance of any government policy", the plaiting together of dozens of data streams so all sorts of state employees, down to minor officials, can form detailed portraits of individual citizens.

If they do get their ID cards happening, it will be the work of moments to plug that into the system and with one swipe reveal to official eyes your internet porn visits, the mismatch between your VAT return and your income tax, your prostate test results, your drinking habits, your speeding tickets ... and correlate it with your children's health and exam results.

Please help spread the paranoia.

Comments