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UK: Grieving families denied justice if government power to replace inquests with secret inquiries goes ahead

Families who have lost loved ones at the hands of the state could be kept in the dark as to what really happened, under proposals that the UK government is expected to push for today (9 November).

As the Coroners and Justice Bill is debated in the House of Commons, Amnesty International is concerned that the government will grant itself the power to suspend any coroner’s inquest and replace it with a ‘secret inquiry’ under the 2005 Inquiries Act.

An inquiry under the 2005 Act would lack independence and be largely controlled by the executive, says Amnesty. Bereaved relatives, journalists and the public could be excluded from part of the inquiry’s hearings. The final report of any inquiry under the Inquiries Act would be published at the discretion of the government minister who convened the inquiry, and crucial findings could be omitted at the minister’s discretion, “in the public interest”.

Amnesty considers that holding an inquiry under this legislation may effectively extinguish the chances of a genuinely independent and effective investigation into human rights violations.

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said:

“If someone dies at the hands of the state, their relatives have a right to know what happened.

“But they could still be kept in the dark if the government suspends the coroner’s inquest and replaces it with an inquiry under the 2005 Inquiries Act.

“Under the Inquiries Act the government can exclude relatives from parts of the hearing. Ministers would also control who sits on the inquiry and can decide which of the findings are published and which remain secret.

“Jack Straw dropped plans for ‘secret inquests’ earlier this year in the face of vocal opposition. But if they are replaced with ‘secret inquiries’ the result will be the same – no transparency and no justice.”

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