Secret inquests for Troubles backlog abandoned

Is Justice Secretary Jack Straw stealthily about to demolish a bunch of the anti-terrorism laws brought in since 9/11? He gave a hint of it in a speech last Tuesday when he declared:

“There is a case for going through all counter terrorism legislation and working out whether we need it. It was there for a temporary period.”

He gave no details but there’s bound to be speculation that the government will retreat on the controversial 28 days maximum detention period for terrorist suspects.

Then today, buried under the weight of the MPs’ expenses crisis, Straw used the device of a written Commons statement to announce the abandonment of most of the heavily criticised plan to hold secret inquests which might have covered cases like de Menezes and soldiers killed by friendly fire – both categories causing excruciating embarrassment to the government. The prospect of secret inquests was greeted with uproar in Northern Ireland when it became clear it would apply to the big backlog of outstanding Troubles cases. However the alternative, more inquiries under the controversial Inquiries Act 2005, isn’t likely to find many supporters either.

A big defeat is dropping a proposal to modify the blanket ban on intercept evidence to allow its use in special inquests. An attempt to bring in bugging evidence in trials was defeated behind the scenes, despite support for it by the independent assessor of terrorist laws, Lord Carlisle.

Fear of defeat in the increasingly powerful reformed House of Lords largely accounts for these retreats.

  • Gabriel

    It is as much a joke as the historical enquiries team who did not dare dig too deep as it would have led to some high profile arrests and possible restarting of the conflict.Laughable that they even wanted secret inquests after they used the SRR (ex 14th det) alledgedly disguised as police to kill the brazilian on the tube.These ‘shoot to kill’tactics obviously not strange to us from the past with the 14th det.

  • Thanks for this post Brian. The Amnesty view:

    ‘… a welcome victory for those who believe that coroners’ inquests should not be conducted in secret on the say-so of the government.

    ‘When someone loses their life at the hands of the state, it’s essential – and required by international law – that an independent and impartial inquiry finds out how and why it happened.

    ‘However it’s worrying that the government may still try to keep families and the public in the dark by using the Inquiries Act 2005.

    ‘Under the Inquiries Act the government can control who sits on an inquiry, it can order part of the inquiry to be held in private and it can decide which of the findings are published and which remain secret.

    ‘If secret inquests are dropped but replaced by secret inquiries, this ‘climbdown’ may do little to increase government transparency. The Inquiries Act should go the same way as the proposals for secret coroners inquests – it should be scrapped.’