27th February 2012

Evidence session tomorrow, Tuesday 28 February at 2.20pm

INQUEST, along with Amnesty International, JUSTICE and Liberty, will give evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ Inquiry into the Justice and Security Green Paper tomorrow.

The inquiry is examining the compatibility of the government’s draft proposals to introduce ‘closed material proceedings’ to civil proceedings, including inquests, with the requirement for a fair and transparent hearing and international human rights obligations.

The Green Paper makes a range of possible proposals relating to inquests, ranging from the introduction of ‘closed material proceedings’ which would exclude families, their legal representatives and juries from the hearing, to security vetting of bereaved families and juries. Twice before (in the Counter Terrorism Act 2008 and the Coroners and Justice Act 2009) attempts have been made by government to place restrictions on families’ ability to hear all relevant evidence during an inquest and both attempts were resoundingly rejected by parliamentarians.

INQUEST believes the current proposals are equally unnecessary and run counter to the recent legislative reform agreed by Parliament in the  Coroners and Justice Act 2009 which aims to put bereaved families at the heart of the inquest process.

Helen Shaw, co-director of INQUEST, who will be giving evidence to the JCHR, said:

We were surprised the Green Paper contained yet another set of proposals for hearing evidence at inquests in secret. During previous parliamentary debates similar schemes were demonstrated to be unworkable and completely unnecessary.

We are not aware of a single inquest that cannot proceed within the current legal framework that already adequately deals with ‘sensitive’ evidence. As demonstrated in our written evidence to the Joint Committee, high profile and sensitive inquests such as that into the deaths of passengers in the 7/7 bombings, the police shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, the deaths of 14 military personnel in Afghanistan following the Nimrod crash have been conducted thoroughly and concluded properly within the existing system.

 Any attempt to restrict inquest hearings as proposed would again damage family and public confidence in the inquest system. We hope the Joint Committee will agree with us that the government should think again and withdraw these proposals rather than engage in yet another difficult and contentious debate that will cause anxiety and distress for many bereaved families.


Notes to editors:

  1. The Justice and Security Green Paper was published by the government in October 2011 and can be accessed here.

INQUEST and the INQUEST Lawyers’ Group submitted a response which can be accessed here (PDF).

  1. Details of the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ Inquiry, announced on 8 December 2011,can be found here.

INQUEST’s submission to the JCHR inquiry can be accessed here (PDF).

  1. There have been two previous parliamentary attempts to restrict the conduct of inquests and exclude bereaved families at inquests. Both were withdrawn following concerted campaigning led by INQUEST.

In 2008, the government attempted to do this as part of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008.The proposed clauses were withdrawn during committee stage of the Bill, but indicated its intention to include them in the forthcoming Coroners and Justice Bill. More details here (PDF).

In 2009, following lobbying and a successful campaign led by INQUEST and in the face of a lack of cross-party support, the proposal to introduce ‘secret inquests’ into the Coroners and Justice Bill was withdrawn. Instead, clauses were introduced to allow the Secretary of State to halt an inquest and direct an inquiry instead. Further information can be found here (PDF).

  1. There are several inquests that have involved sensitive evidence or information.These include the inquests into the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed, Jean Charles de Menezes, the 7/7 bombing victims and the Nimrod military personnel.

To INQUEST’s knowledge, all but one have concluded properly. The death of Azelle Rodney who was shot by police in 2005 is now subject to an Inquiries Act 2005 inquiry that will take place in September 2012. This death, which was at the heart of the two previous attempts to introduce restricted hearings involves material that is subject to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and coroners are not permitted to access such material.

Information about all these cases and others are contained in the appendix to INQUEST’s JCHR submission.