284 MPs let us down
MPs have rejected a move by peers to allow phone tap evidence to be used “in exceptional circumstances” in inquests presided over by a High Court Judge.
The move was intended to allow inquests to take place even though sensitive security information was involved.
MPs voted by 284 to 220 to reject an amendment to the Counter-Terrorism Bill, a government majority of 64.
They have also overturned a move calling for new guidelines on destroying innocent people’s DNA.
The Lords [DNA database] amendment was overturned by 277 votes to 209, a government majority 68.
On phone tap evidence, Mr Coaker told MPs: “The fundamental difficulty with the amendment and where the disagreement has come forward is that inquests must be held with a jury in certain circumstances and that juries are finders of fact.
“The Lords amendment would mean sensitive material would have to be disclosed to the jury for the inquest to proceed and this risks it then being disclosed.”
Hmm, I think he inadvertently misled the Commons there – because what the amendment actually says is that if a coroner is normally a High Court judge (High Court judges are allowed to see this kind of evidence in normal court cases, just not inquests) he can order disclosure to himself, or to the jury, or to other ‘properly interested’ parties. It doesn’t mean that the intercept evidence will automatically go to the jury if it’s disclosed to the judge.
He said the matter would best be dealt with in the forthcoming Coroner’s Bill.
But Mr Green expressed concern that the issue was being “pushed back” into another piece of legislation, as there were “urgent present cases” where inquests could not happen because this particular law was not in place.
Indeed, there are at least two cases – Azelle Rodney and Terry Nicholas – where the coroners have had to halt the inquests because of this issue. Azelle Rodney, by the way, was shot and killed by the police over three years ago, so while the Government faffs about, his family is still waiting to hear the circumstances of his death.
And Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn said the Lords amendment offered a “far better” approach.
He told MPs: “It is too easy for the agents of the state, be they the armed forces or the police or social services or health service, to say ‘well, hang on there’s something very very peculiar and very very sensitive about this’ and go to the judge and say ‘I’d rather this was not disclosed.'”