7th March 2012

Secretary of State for Justice Ken Clarke MP gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, in which he argued that without closed material procedures, some inquests would not be able to proceed.

Subsequently, the Royal British Legion made the following statement:

“The Legion believes that military inquests ought to be held in the open because transparency is the best guarantee that bereaved Armed Forces families will actually find out exactly how their loved one died…Withholding information from them through a secret inquest will only compound their grief and generate distrust and suspicion when all they want is to learn the truth.

In response, Deborah Coles, Co-Director of INQUEST, said:

“Ken Clarke is wrong. The alternative to closed proceedings is not ‘nothing’.

“As the Royal British Legion points out, mechanisms already exist for the most sensitive information to be dealt with safely and successfully at inquests without the need to exclude bereaved families.

“We are unaware of a single inquest which has had to be permanently adjourned because of sensitive material aside from the police shooting of Azelle Rodney, which has become the subject of a public inquiry.

“MI6 and MI5 officers have given evidence at a number of inquests involving highly sensitive national security issues including hearings into the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed, Jean Charles de Menezes and the victims of the 7/7 London bombings.

“The post of Chief Coroner is to be created this year. One of this senior judge’s first priorities could be drawing together the mechanisms and good practice that already exists to create guidance for coroners who are faced with sensitive material. There is no need to create new laws.

“Above all, it is crucial that bereaved families are able to participate in an open and transparent process that allows them to fully understand how their relative died, and so that lessons can be learned to try and prevent future deaths.”