A backbench amendment that would have thrown out the Government's proposals for the replacement of open inquests with secret 'inquiries' was narrowly defeated by 8 votes in the House of Commons yesterday. Under the measures ministers will be able to order that an inquest is replaced with a secret inquiry whenever they consider it necessary.
MPs and civil rights groups accused the Government of eroding the ancient right to a public inquest and for trying to sneak through an 'abuse of power'. Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, which has strongly opposed the powers said: "The British public has no taste for secret justice, particularly when the rights of grieving families are at stake."
Jack Straw said the move would only affect a "tiny number" of cases. I don't believe him. This is the start of a slippery slope towards the end of open inquests. This government has used this 'bit at a time' method to chip away at many of our freedoms.
The truth is that Jack Straw's 'national security' arguments are a smokescreen. This bill is all about sparing the police and the authorities from any embarrassment that might arise from open inquests and their independent-minded coroners. Remember Andrew Walker, the Wiltshire coroner, who spoke out about the MoD at inquests on British troops?
Update: For readers who live out with the UK, the above legislation does not apply to Scotland where there is a different legal system. The latest report on Fatal Accident Enquiries for Scotland can be read here.