UK Liberty

MSM waking up to secret inquests

Posted in de Menezes, inquest without jury by ukliberty on February 21, 2008

The Telegraph:

… a travesty of justice is threatening our inquests. But the real scandal is not unfolding at the Royal Courts. It is located in the little-noticed Clause 64 of the Counter-Terrorism Bill 2008 before Parliament. This measure gives the Government a virtually free rein to turn inquests into invisible and state-controlled hearings.

Under extraordinary new powers, the Home Secretary could, almost at whim, issue certificates to hold “secret” inquests and appoint a government-vetted coroner.

Families would be excluded from at least some of the proceedings, and a bereaved parent would not be able, like Mr Fayed, to appeal to the good sense of ordinary men and women in returning a verdict on how their loved one died. There would be no jury.

This provision, denounced by civil liberties campaigners, arose not from a James Bond-style assassination, but from the death in 2005 of a 24-year-old Londoner, Azelle Rodney.

We’ve heard little about Azelle Rodney in the news, as an old Guardian article says – an extraordinary story nonetheless.

Mr Rodney, described as wearing a suspiciously large coat [a three quarter length on an overcast day, apparently], was killed by six shots from a Heckler and Koch high-velocity assault rifle fired by a police officer acting on intelligence after a covert surveillance operation. He was alleged to be a gun-carrying drug-dealer, although no proof was produced.

The inquest could not go ahead, because some evidence, presumably of surveillance methods, was deemed too sensitive to set before the coroner.

Read his ruling at the preliminary hearing (150Kb PDF).

Mr Rodney’s mother, Susan Alexander, who has waited for almost three years to discover how her son died, has reportedly been told that the hearing, when it happens, will be subject to the new measures.

Mr Rodney’s case might seem peripheral to your freedoms and mine. But Clause 64 is widely drawn. If your child or partner is a soldier shot down by “friendly fire” in Iraq, or a peaceful protester killed by a police officer at a GM crop site, you might be denied an impartially chosen coroner and a jury.

If another innocent terror suspect, such as Jean Charles de Menezes, is shot by police marksmen, evidence could be heard behind closed doors. Should someone similar to government scientist Dr David Kelly perish under strange circumstances, the Government could take the view that the public has no right to learn the truth at an open and transparent inquest.

No doubt the Home Office would deny any shady motives. It is possible, even likely, that ministers simply hoped to clear up an anomaly and to use their Draconian powers sparingly. But the war on terror corrupts judgment, and oppressive laws, once on the statute book, are at the disposal of bad governments as well as more benign ones.

Campaigning groups, such as Justice and Inquest, are appalled by the measure. The Joint Committee on Human Rights is “astonished” and its chairman, Andrew Dismore MP, is “seriously alarmed”.

At best, this is a terrible muddle, designed to allow intercept evidence to be heard, but at an unacceptable cost. At worst, a measure slipped in with no warning or consultation demolishes a tenet of civilisation.

When someone dies at the hands of the state, or in other public interest cases, the current law requires that the coroner sit with a jury. Family members must be allowed to see and verify that justice endures beyond the grave.

The surveillance state, so eager to scrutinise its living citizens, cannot be allowed to draw a veil over the dead. Of course, there are rare cases in which some material must stay private to protect the national interest. But there are also many options – such as forcing juries to sign the Official Secrets Act, or even security-vetting – that stop short of suppression.

Parliament should dump Clause 64, or tear it apart.

The content and progress of the Counter Terrorism Bill can be tracked using the Parliament website.

“Justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done” – Lord Chief Justice Hewart


One Response

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  1. Gagging coroners « UK Liberty said, on March 18, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    […] See also Clause 64 of the Counter-Terrorism Bill. […]

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