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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 Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 6:30 pm, 13th May 2008

I am going to say a bit more than “I agree”. It is extremely important that we should substitute somebody such as the Lord Chief Justice for the Secretary of State, because after all, we want to go back to where we start. Where we start from is that the Secretary of State has certified that in his or her opinion, the matter should not be heard with a jury. We are then going on to the next stage of contemplating a specially appointed coroner to determine an inquest that has already been the subject of the Secretary of State’s certificate. The public has got to have confidence in the procedure and I should have thought that the public would be very concerned if, in such a situation, the Secretary of State were then to nominate a specifically appointed person.

There is a further dimension to this that arises out of the European convention on human rights. This Committee will have in mind that there has been a growing recognition, as a result of the European convention, that the Executive has to be distanced further than was the case from judicial actions. I have in mind two matters—for example, the fact that the Lord Chancellor is no longer able to sit on appeals. That arose because the Government understood, in my view rightly, that this was incompatible with the European convention because, it was said, it was wrong for the Executive to have any role in a judicial process.

Another consideration that comes into play is perhaps closer to this one. The Committee, or some of it, will keep in mind that there was a process for appointing assistant recorders. The status of assistant recorders has, I think, been wholly abolished and replaced by full-time recorders and the reason for that, in my understanding, was that it was felt in Government, and I think again correctly, that it was incompatible with the European convention to have a judicial process conducted by somebody appointed ad hoc, that is to say without certainty as to the term of his or her appointment. Once you have got yourself a specially appointed coroner, you are in precisely that position and therefore not only as a matter of perception, but I think as a matter of substantive law, it is extremely important that the Secretary of State is not the appointing authority, or at least is not the sole appointing authority.

I am grateful to the Minister for saying he is not wedded to this particular concept, because if he is, he will probably lose it, if only on judicial review. I hope he will come forward with some solution along the lines put down in the various amendments. I personally think it best of all to have the appointment of the specially appointed coroner by the Lord Chief Justice, and that is something that I would be content with.