"Secret Inquests" will not go ahead

Justice Secretary Jack Straw (pictured right - never noticed how much he looks like Ivor Cutler before...) has stated that so-called secret inquests - which would give the Home Secretary the right to name a specially selected coroner to run inquests into Governmental or police actions without the presence of a jury for reasons deemed to be of national security or not in the public's interest. The statement comes shortly after Mr. Straw also suggested that some of the laws - widely considered to be draconian - created by Labour in the wake of the World Trade Centre attacks could be withdrawn. The plans, outlined in Clause 68 of the 2008 Counter Terrorism Bill, would have given ministers the power to keep evidence in inquiries such as that following the death of Charles Jean de Menezes, shot several times with hollow point bullets by police on the London Underground, secret. The Menezes case has shown serious shortfallings in the police's actions that day. The Clause was created in an attempt to end the stalemate which arose during the investigation into the death of Azelle Rodney who was shot by plice in April 2005. In that investigation, coroner Andrew Walker (pictured left) said that he would not be able to continue with the case due to the large number of redactions - crossed out sections of text - in police statements, which are thought to have related to evidence gathered by the use of phone taps and/or bugs. However, Alan Beith, Liberal Democrat MP for Berwick Upon Tweed and chairman of the Commons Justice Committee, said that he was "not comfortable with a situation where a politician is deciding there shouldn't be a jury in a particular inquest," adding that the proposal was dangerous despite Bridget Prentice's - Labour MP for Lewisham and a Minister of Justice - claims that it would affect a mere handful of cases every year.

Daniel Machover, the Rodney family's solicitor, said that "These proposals mean that ministers and those responsible for intelligence gathering will never be held properly to account for the validity of their tactics." Helen Shaw, co-director of Inquest - a group which campaigns for people who have died during legal custody - said that "
The public will find it difficult to have confidence that these coroner-only inquests, with key evidence being suppressed, can investigate contentious deaths involving state agents independently."

However, announcing that the proposals would be dropped, Mr. Straw said that they had not got the cross party support required to make them law. A joint committee on human rights made up of MPs and peers had previously advised that the proposals be scrapped, saying that inquests - especially those in which citizens had been killed at the hands of the state - must be "transparent."

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