Clause 65 — Certificate requiring inquest to be held without a jury: England and Wales
Orders of the Day
Tony McNulty (Minister of State (Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing), Home Office; Harrow East, Labour)
That is entirely in the Government's thinking, not least because the only unfortunate thing in the whole process is the lack of alignment between fairly significant pieces of endeavour—the Chilcot implementation group, Lord Cullen's further inquiry into what pertains in Scotland, and the introduction of the coroners reform Bill. In the end, all these provisions sit more suitably in a coroners reform Bill, having been suitably informed by the Cullen review and what Chilcot says about implementation. It is arrant nonsense to suggest that this is about the state taking over people's article 2 rights and in some sinister fashion ensuring that anything remotely attached to the state relating to the death of an individual will now be hush-hush, covered up and secret. We have said very clearly in the substance of the Bill that the only secret bit of any proceedings, even with a specially appointed coroner, will be for sensitive information, intercept evidence and whatever else. The rest of the inquest, albeit just with the special coroner, is public.
The notion that this is about hurrying and scurrying into a little hole so that no one knows anything, not least the family, is simply is not the case, as Mr. Grieve knows. He rightly starts from the premise, as do most fair-minded individuals in this House, of whom there are plenty, that there is an issue to do with particular cases that we need to resolve. We think that this architecture addresses that, and that none of the amendments does.
We have moved on this, as we have on all the assorted groups of amendments that we have dealt with tonight. We have taken to heart what the Committee said about this being a singular activity of the Secretary of State, and we have introduced not only concurrence but the veto of the Lord Chief Justice and the Secretary of State working together. We have even amended and restricted revocation—taking an individual special coroner out of a process—to incapacity and misbehaviour. That is misbehaviour in the perfectly rational and legally precedented process already on the statute book, which extends to falling asleep, being offensive and all the other things that already govern the conduct of judges in such procedures.
The hon. and learned Gentleman will know far more about that than I do. People are not going to say, "Oh, we will vote for the licensing of this particular special coroner because he is making a decision counter to what the state wants." That was the implication of the comments of some individuals, and again I say that it is absolute nonsense. Complaints about judicial decisions are subject to appeal to a higher court in the normal fashion. What we are describing is the independent, finder-of-fact role that the coroner has, and getting to a stage—in what are, in reality, narrowly defined cases—where closure can be achieved for the families.