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Clause 65

Part of Counter-Terrorism Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:30 pm on 13th May 2008.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome 6:30 pm, 13th May 2008

We now move on to the way in which, when a certificate has been issued for there to be no jury in a coroner’s court, a coroner can be specially appointed to displace the coroner who would have heard the inquest at the behest of the Secretary of State. The  purpose of this group of amendments is to say that that simply will not do, and that it is inappropriate for the Secretary of State to appoint the person who heads the court—the coroner—instead of it being a judicial appointment. That runs counter to any principle of judicial independence that we may have. It simply cannot be right that in the first instance the Secretary of State decides that it is inconvenient for an inquest to be held with a jury and for certain matters to be put before an open court, and then to decide who will sit in judgment on that closed matter in the coroner’s court.

I am not unsympathetic to some of the Government’s arguments, but I am totally unsympathetic to the view that any Secretary of State should take that responsibility on himself or herself. I am looking for an alternative way in which to ensure that as near as possible, within the constraints that the circumstances require, an ordinarily appointed coroner leads the inquest and hears the evidence. It is clear that for that to be the case, the coroner must be vetted if they are to look at material that is not available to the general public. There must be a vetting process, and then there must be a process to indicate which coroner in those circumstances should preside in a case when there would usually be a territorial requirement but that requirement has been displaced.