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Grave secrets

Government’s plan to bury open inquests back from the dead

Justice atop the Old Bailey

Under the new proposals, Justice would have to be blindfolded if an inquest were deemed ‘sensitive’

photo: Statto

The Government has this week re-introduced proposals that would allow inquests into those who have died suddenly to be conducted secretly, to prevent sensitive information from being leaked to grieving relatives, or other members of the public. Such information might relate to possible terror offences, or, indeed, pretty much anything, which can be classified as terrorist offences under 2006 legislation.

The measures were first proposed in last year’s counter-terrorism act, but were removed from the document after widespread opposition from politicians, coroners and the public, who believed them to be unnecessary. However, the secret inquests are now back in the political spotlight, with the government suggesting that the press and public could be banned from any inquest where some aspect of the death needs to be suppressed on grounds of national security.

MPs have reacted angrily to the re-introduction of the proposals, pointing out that open inquests have worked perfectly well, even during the Cold War when a breach of confidentiality could mean the deaths of entire spy networks spread over the whole world, and the phrase ‘intelligence information’ meant something more than ‘Tony’s been at this with a biro.’

The bill also suggests a range of other measures including legal provision to stop criminals from making money from memoirs detailing their crimes. Jeffrey Archer and Jonathon Aitken escape through a loophole, because their memoirs are about their time in prison, and not their infractions. However, a further debate, to determine if ‘writing poor-quality fiction’ should be included as an additional offence, has been scheduled for Wednesday.

Speaking before the Commons, Justice Secretary Jack Straw insisted that the measures were necessary, adding ‘I understand why people are uncomfortable, I am not particularly comfortable with the provisions myself, but it is important we find a way through this.’ A spokesman for Mr Straw skipped cheerfully as he confirmed that this was true, and added that the Justice Secretary ‘Does not like having to eat all of the apples, and drink all the milk on the farm, either, but he does it anyway for the Greater Good of the Nation.’


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