Simon Carr: Trust him, he's the Justice Secretary ... Oh, if only we could

Sketch: We know that ministerial assurances at the despatch box aren't worth the air they're breathed into
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The Independent Online

"There's no reason not to trust me," Jack Straw told the House of Commons. He wouldn't dare say that in public.

He's into the later stages of his Coroner's Bill, the device by which he sought to introduce secret inquests to this country – proposals that were "parodied as secret inquests", he said, in the midst of his half-hour of baffling waffle.

He has a problem, everyone seems to agree. Some intercept evidence cannot be revealed at inquests for fear of letting unsuitable jurors have material that could damage national security.

Remembering that there's no reason not to trust the Justice Secretary, you might lean back on your heels and sympathise with him. It's only prejudice that bounces you into an automatic disbelief. But then Bob Marshall-Andrews asked him how many cases this problem represented.

One.

There is this problem in one case in the past five years.

Elfyn Llywd asked again why public interest immunity certificates couldn't resolve his difficulty. He was told such certificates were only available if they wouldn't lead to an injustice. Better, then, to do away with the jury altogether.

After all, the number of inquests it would apply to are vanishingly rare and there is absolutely no intention among the police, the Government, the Justice Secretary himself (he said) to widen the use of the secret inquest. And as we knew by then, there was no need not to trust the minister.

But why weren't these safeguards and restrictions put into the Bill? We know that ministerial assurances at the despatch box aren't worth the air they're breathed into. But that was "very difficult".

And his praise of "senior judges" caused Marshall-Andrews to become sarcastic: "He adulates the higher judiciary only when withdrawing jury trial" – normally he was criticising them for their unelected arrogance in thwarting the intentions of the Government.

Mark Durkan again roused the Irish in his voice (it always gives the place a good shock) to talk about "the real problem which is of grieving and aggrieved families", those who will be bereaved by an official killing and won't be allowed in to the inquest. He talked of the Prime Minister "off in Berlin celebrating the end of state control and state secrecy" – and didn't the Justice Secretary feel "just a little uncomfortable" putting something like this through the House?

Truth be told, Jack did look uncomfortable, stammering and wandering through his case. "I've been up hill and down dale on this," he said, but still he seemed to be in the wrong place with these "massive new powers" being handed to the executive.

"They are not massive new powers, and they would be used extremely sparingly," the Justice Secretary said.

Oh, if only there were no reason not to trust him.

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