Account Management


British Government Attempts To Scrap Open Justice In The Name Of Fighting Terrorism
Ministers want to re-write fundamental principle of English law to accomodate state secrecy

Steve Watson
day, August 13, 2008


The British government has inserted provisions into a Counter-Terrorism Bill that would see centuries old principles of law and justice undermined and allow the government unprecedented powers to intervene in the workings of the judiciary.

The legislation would allow inquests to be held in secret without a jury and would grant the government the right to replace the coroner with their own appointee, should they deem it to be a matter of national security.

The Times of London has the story, pointing out that the change in law would also allow the Home Secretary (The British equivalent of Secretary of State) to "bar the public from inquests if it is deemed to be in the public interest", a candidate for the award of most Orwellian phrase if ever there was one.

The report goes on to state:

It could be applied to inquests similar to those into the deaths of the weapons inspector David Kelly, “friendly-fire” military casualties or Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi Fayed. In future, inquests similar to that into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, which is due to start next month with 44 police officers giving evidence anonymously, could also be subject to the secrecy clause.

Lawyers, opposition MPs and pressure groups have told The Times that the move represents a fundamental breach of the right to a public inquiry into a death – a centuries-old mainstay of British justice.

The bill passed the House of Commons last month, without any mention of the measure which was overshadowed by debate surrounding the legal detention length of suspects in terror cases.

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Critics and public pressure groups, including The Coroners’ Society, have slammed the proposal, warning that it could easily be used to shield from public scrutiny any case that the government deems politically sensitive.

Lawyers have warned that the measure undermines the entire justice system in the UK by threatening the principle of open justice. The move also represents a breach of the separation of powers of the state, the foundation underpinning the British political system and the governance of democratic states in general. Britain is renowned for having one of the most independent judicial systems in the world, this measure would go some way to scaling that back significantly.

Labour MP Andrew Dismore, the chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, has also stated that the provisions contravene the European Convention on Human Rights.

Though the measure will likely not pass the House of Lords, still the final arbiters of judicial disputes in the UK, the fact that the government even legislated it speaks volumes of their agenda and intention to continue to use anti-terror laws to grant themselves further unchecked power and implement greater secrecy.

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