Justice Committee

Press Notice No. 20 (Session 2007-08),

19 March 2008

WITHDRAW COUNTER-TERROR BILL CHANGES TO CORONERS SYSTEM, SAYS COMMITTEE

In a report published today, Thursday 20 March 2008, ahead of Second Reading of the Counter Terrorism Bill, the Justice Committee says proposed changes to the coroners system threaten the proper independence of inquests and should be withdrawn.

Committee Chairman Rt Hon Alan Beith MP said: "The proposals in the Terrorism Bill put the choice of coroner and the possibility of excluding a jury quite wrongly in the Government's hands. The actions of Government bodies are regularly questioned at inquests and Ministers should not be in a position to choose the coroner who will hear the case or whether a jury will be present.

"These proposals illustrate the serious dangers of piecemeal proposals to the coroners system, which it is widely agreed needs serious reform. We are awaiting a long promised Coroners' Bill following the Committee's report criticising the 2006 draft Bill. It would be much better to consider any changes as part of that Bill when it appears. "

By law, under the right to life article of the European Convention on Human Rights, where a person is killed by the use of force the person carrying out the investigation must be independent of all involved, there must be a sufficient element of public scrutiny to secure accountability and the investigation must involve the next of kin as far as is necessary to protect their legitimate interests.

The Committee is concerned that the changes proposed in the Bill could see a Minister making the decision to choose the coroner or exclude a jury in cases involving State authorities such as hospitals or the armed services, or even a service for which the Minister had direct responsibility, such as the Prison Service.

The Committee also says there is an inconsistency in the proposal to permit the use of intercept evidence in inquests while it is not allowed in criminal trials.

The proposals around inquests were introduced late in the day and were not mentioned in last summer's Government consultation. The Committee says there has been no opportunity for proper scrutiny.

The Committee has previously reported in detail on the required proper reform of the coroners system.

Notes:
1. Committee Membership is as follows: Rt Hon Alan Beith MP (Chairman), Mr David Howarth MP, Daniel Kawczynski MP, Siân James MP, Jessica Morden MP, Julie Morgan MP, Rt Hon Alun Michael MP, Robert Neill MP, Dr Nick Palmer MP, Linda Riordan MP, Virendra Sharma MP, Mr Andrew Turner, Mr Andrew Tyrie MP and Dr Alan Whitehead MP

2. The Report is the Committee's Third Report, Session 2007-08, HC 405.

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