Govt dumps secret inquests

By staff

Jack Straw has announced he will abandon controversial plans to hold secret inquests without juries.

Civil liberties campaigners expressed their relief at the news, after months of intense campaigning.

Liberty director, Shami Chakrabarti, said: “We welcome this sane and humble climb-down by the lord chancellor. It was completely bizarre for a government that has spent over a decade lecturing the public about victims’ rights to attempt to exclude bereaved families from open justice.”

David Howarth, the Lib Dem justice spokesman said: “These proposals should never have been brought forward in the first place and wasted a lot of parliamentary time.

“The proposal to use inquiries instead is itself unsatisfactory, because presumably these inquires will be held by judges without juries. Jack Straw must not sideline juries.”

The provisional clauses in the coroners and justice bill would have prevented the family of the deceased from seeing secret material related to the death in sensitive cases and excluded them from the proceedings where this evidence is discussed.

Legal and human right charity, Justice, along with Inquest, which deals with deaths ‘at the hands of the state’ launched merciless campaigns when the proposals were made in March.

They urged MP’s to reject these “unnecessary, opaque and dangerous” provisions last month in order to protect the right to open justice “in the most difficult and potentially politically contentious of circumstances”.

Defending his plan, the justice secretary said: “The government felt these changes struck a fair and proportionate balance between the interests of bereaved families, the need to protect sensitive material and judicial oversight of the whole process.”

However, he admitted that the two controversial clauses in the coroners and justice bill had clearly not raised enough cross party support for the amendments to go ahead.