Simon Carr:

The Sketch: Holding inquests in secret: that'll shut everybody up

Share
Related Topics

Secret inquests, held without a jury. Is this an idea whose time has come? The Public Bill Committee is going through the text of the Coroners and Justice Bill.

The proposal is this. The state is involved in the death of someone – in police cells, in prison, in a shooting incident, on the battlefield in Afghanistan – and the minister decides to hold the inquest beyond the public gaze.

Is that odd, at all? There are usually juries in these sorts of matters. Ordinary people have been sitting in judgment for centuries. Too long, some think. Yes, true: it's against the spirit of the times. Ordinary people have no expert knowledge of the sensitivities involved. And our intelligence relationships with foreign countries demand great sensitivity. Also, the safety of our police is paramount – it's the first duty of officers these days to protect the safety of themselves.

And, of course, national security. That shuts everyone up.

David Howarth, the Cambridge MP, thinks this is drivel. As does Edward Garnier for the Tories. As does Liberty, as does Inquest, the coroners organisation, as does... almost everyone. Possibly not the police, who may be behind this nasty piece of work.

The way the Bill is worded, the Minister of Justice can use five grounds to bang up the inquest. Mr Garnier pointed out how a police officer can – and has – used a clause in the Counter-Terrorism Act to confiscate a camera from a member of the public who'd photographed the officer committing a traffic violation. That's the trouble: if they can, they will.

Would the Menezes inquest have been held in public under this law? Like fun. Under all five provisions of the Bill they could have held it in secret. To protect "national security" (terrorists shouldn't know how incompetent our police were). To protect "the relationship between the UK and another country" (ditto foreign governments). To "protect the safety of a witness or other person" (the head of the Met, for instance).

James Gray mentioned the Hercules that went down in Iraq killing 10 servicemen – the coroner criticised the US intelligence sharing (very relationship-damaging), and the British Government for not having flame suppressant foam in the plane, and made £30m of safety recommendations.

If they could pull it off, all military inquests would be held in secret. The several oppositions agree there are occasions when secrecy is required, and agree with Mr Howarth that coroners should operate according to the same rules of secrecy as High Court judges in espionage or terror trials. That's the answer. But the Government is asking a different question.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Account Manager

£30 - 38k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a digitally focussed Account Man...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Java

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This exciting and disruptive co...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP / MySQL / HTML / CSS

£23000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, this digital ...

Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Cashier

£16500 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: Ancient Labour rivalries – Bevan versus Morrison

John Rentoul
Labour leadership hopefuls, from left, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall, Andy Burnham and Jeremy Corbyn on the BBC  

If you’re thinking of voting for Jeremy Corbyn, here are my promises to you

Andy Burnham
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935