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Government MPs rebel over secret inquest bill

10 November 2009

Thirty-one Labour MPs have voted for a rebel amendment to remove the proposed right of the Justice Secretary to demand controversial deaths are investigated behind closed doors. The NUJ has welcomed efforts by MPs to throw out UK government plans, contained within the Coroners and Justice Bill, that would enable inquests to be heard in secret.

The government scheme to allow inquests to be replaced by an inquiry – which could be held in secret, without a jury, without media and without the involvement of bereaved families – only scraped through parliament yesterday by eight votes. The NUJ has pledged to oppose the plan.

Trade unions for workers in the justice system – including the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO), the Prison Officers' Association (POA) and the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union – are also campaigning against the proposals.

Labour MP John McDonnell, secretary of both the NUJ and the justice unions parliamentary groups, said:

"Inquests are key to democracy – they expose the truth surrounding the death of a loved one for many bereaved families and are instrumental in preventing further deaths in similar circumstances.
"Our laws should not allow the state to hide information at the expense of scrutiny and accountability – shielding embarrassing information from the public gaze.
"In light of last night's vote, the government must listen to the principled stand many have taken and climb down from its dogged insistence on pushing these provisions through parliament."

Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary, said:

"I applaud all the MPs who voted in favour of open justice. All inquests should continue to be open to the press and public.
"It is only by that level of public scrutiny that people can be assured there has been a proper investigation into the deaths of their loved-ones.
"The NUJ will continue to work with MPs and other unions to keep inquests in the public domain."

The proposal must now go back to the House of Lords where it was defeated last month.

Tags: , coroners and justice bill, inquests, press association, secret courts, parliamentary group, government uk, pcs, napo, poa, coroners' courts, labour party britain