‘Full-scale campaign’ being prepared to block inquests without juries
Inquests that are deemed a risk to national security by the Government would be held in secret in future under proposed powers to come before the House of Lords this autumn.
The provisions, under a clause in the Counter-Terrorism Bill, allow the Home Secretary to stop a jury being summoned, replace the coroner with a government appointee and bar the public from inquests if it is deemed to be in the public interest.
It could be applied to inquests similar to those into the deaths of the weapons inspector David Kelly, “friendly-fire” military casualties or Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi Fayed. In future, inquests similar to that into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, which is due to start next month with 44 police officers giving evidence anonymously, could also be subject to the secrecy clause.
Lawyers, opposition MPs and pressure groups have told The Times that the move represents a fundamental breach of the right to a public inquiry into a death – a centuries-old mainstay of British justice.
They said that a full-scale campaign is being prepared to block the provision, which granted the Home Secretary unprecedented powers to intervene in the workings of the judiciary.
The measure, Section 63 of the Bill, passed through the House of Commons in July without fanfare as debate raged over the headline power for the 42-day detention of terror suspects. …