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I listened to the very informed comments from the government Back Benches. Noble Lords spoke about the Chilcot inquiry. That was an extremely important inquiry whose findings I would not belittle in any way. Nevertheless, it must be possible for the Government and all their advisers to work out a way to put those nine conditions into the Bill in such a way-it may not be possible next month, but we have been waiting for two years already-that they can stay within the inquest system and the conditions can be fulfilled. That has
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The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, said that this is about having sympathy with the families. All of us of course have sympathy with the families, but today's debate has not been about that; it is about the principle of what should be at the heart of the inquest system in those most difficult cases where it is the state which, for whatever reason, has been the cause of the death of the person for whom the inquest is being held.
We cannot believe that the solutions offered are something that we should be considering, when the Bill will be on the statute books for 20 or 30 years. Chilcot has reported, and we know what the conditions are; for all that the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, says, the implementation team is getting on very well with its work and can come to a conclusion in the very near future. So it is practical to look at this within the inquest system.
The other thing that gives me great confidence that this is so is that, when we debated this matter before, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, whom the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and I have both quoted this afternoon, was in support of this solution. As noble Lords will be aware, she chaired the Joint Intelligence Committee for some years.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: Well, she has been a member of it for some years, and she chaired it. I would be surprised if noble Lords were saying that she has less expertise in this matter than many of them.
What we come back to is whether this is a principle that the Government want to establish in the heart of the Bill. The Minister said that the Conservative Party should think long and hard before supporting these amendments. Actually, I think that it is extremely depressing that the Government, with their alleged support of open government and transparency, should try to establish a principle in the heart of this Bill that avoids having the coronial system as the gold-plate system, which we need to see when somebody has died at the hands of the state.
I understand all the practical arguments about the fact that mobile operators have a difficulty here, but that difficulty can be overcome, and we cannot allow important statutes to be dictated by the concerns of mobile operators. Of course, their staff have to be protected, but there are ways in which to do that. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, put his finger on it when he said that there were already provisions under Section 18 of RIPA that allow such evidence in court, in exceptional circumstances. We are talking about only a handful of inquests; they will always be exceptional. People who have died deserve no less than those in court in other circumstances. Given those issues, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
"(d) a disclosure to a coronial judge or to a person appointed as counsel to an inquest or to members of a jury at an inquest or to an interested person in which the coronial judge has ordered the disclosure."
"(8B) A coronial judge shall not order a disclosure under subsection (7)(d) except where the judge is satisfied that the circumstances of the case make the disclosure necessary to enable the matters required to be ascertained by the investigation to be ascertained.
(15) In this section "coronial judge" means a judge nominated by the Lord Chief Justice under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 to conduct an investigation into a person's death and who has agreed to do so.""
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, for much of the Bill so far we have been discussing improvements and additions. Amendment 6-I shall speak also to Amendments 9 and 10-slightly put the clock back by suggesting that we ought to revert in this legislation to the wording of the Coroners Act 1988, particularly its Section 8(3). That provision specifies that, regardless of initial classification of the cause of death, an inquest must be held with a jury if the death occurred in prison or police custody or following police contact. The Bill proposes that some causes of death should not require a jury but my amendment suggests that we should revert to the old rule where a jury was required in those circumstances. Amendments 9 and 10 also ensure that an inquest with a jury is required in particular circumstances.
Hidden among all of this is provision for including deaths in such places as psychiatric hospitals. My reasoning for such an amendment comes from a number of cases-one in particular, where a young man met his death in a secure hospital some two and a half years ago. There have been continuous efforts to have that case investigated. Unfortunately the checks and balances that are now in the system-for example, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman is responsible for investigating unnatural deaths in prison, before inquests might be held-do not apply in psychiatric hospitals. The Care Quality Commission has recently been formed,
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Lord Alderdice: My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House save to give support to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in the amendments that have been put down in his name and my name and that of my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford. He addressed the question of the inclusion of a jury and the problem of deaths in psychiatric hospitals-something of which I am rather aware. The Government should seriously consider the proposition that these amendments put forward, and I shall leave it at that.
I moved this amendment in Committee but it was dealt with rather disparagingly by the Minister at that time, who said, "Well, there has never been a recorded instance of a death caused by a member of the security services". That was a pretty wide statement. He said that it had not occurred in 50 years. Clearly, if a member of the security services is employed to carry out functions very similar to those of a police officer, it may well happen. If it should happen, it would be a travesty for it to be said that a jury was not needed in such a case because it does not come within the Bill. When a member of the security services operates as such in the execution of his duty, he may be involved in a fatal incident. It is easy to see how it could happen in these days of terrorism. Accordingly, the same protection should be given by a jury in those cases as exists in relation to any police officer. I am speaking to that amendment now and will move it in due course.
These three amendments to Clause 7 make provision for inquests to be held into the deaths of individuals undergoing military training, or that of a young person while training or serving with Her Majesty's Armed Forces, where the death is violent or unnatural or the cause of death is unknown. The House will be aware that any death of a young person in the Armed Forces is a matter of great sensitivity. The Royal British Legion and others who assist the bereaved in such circumstances report that the relatives of the deceased very much want a formal inquest and to be kept as fully informed as possible.
In 2007 the Blake report, following the deaths of four young servicemen at Deepcut barracks, recommended that the recruitment age of the Armed Forces be increased to 18, due to the inherent risks involved. Where such recommendations cannot be taken forward, surely additional protection must be necessary. Young
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Clause 7(2)(b) already makes provision for deaths resulting from an act or omission of a police officer or service police officer. My amendments would ensure that, were the death of a youth to occur under training in the Armed Forces, additional scrutiny into the circumstances and lessons learned could be followed up and implemented. These safeguards would help to ensure fair treatment for the youngest members of the Armed Forces, in line with the undertaking in last year's Command Paper 7424, The Nation's Commitment: Cross-Government Support to Our Armed Forces, their Families and Veterans. Indeed, in the foreword to that Command Paper, the Prime Minister gave an explicit assurance to the Armed Forces. He was, he said,
I urge the Minister now to accept these amendments which are important to safeguarding the interests of young personnel who enter the Armed Forces, or to indicate what explicit steps are to be taken to ensure that the interests of the victims and those of their relatives are fully protected.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: My Lords, the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham, Lord Thomas and Lord Alderdice, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, have brought us now to debate Clause 7 on whether a jury is required. I declare my interests as set out in the Register, in particular as a partner in the national commercial firm Beachcroft LLP.
I am proud this week to be able to add to those interests the fact that I have just been elected a vice-chairman of JUSTICE, a post which my late colleague Lord Kingsland held with great distinction. He is sorely missed in many ways-for example, when we discuss juries. I share his belief that the jury system is fundamental and must remain, despite the Government's efforts from time to time to abolish trial by jury in certain instances. Having a jury sit with a coroner is always the exception rather than the rule because the logistical and cost implications render such a move impractical. That is a reasonable line to take. However, the noble Lords' amendments seek to extend the cases in which a jury is assembled. Although I have just said some cautionary words, we have consistently argued that inquests must be as transparent as possible. The jury system is an important feature of our coronial system; it is long established and well known. The presence of a jury in certain cases is a principle which we defend. For that reason we support some of the noble Lords' amendments in this group. We see the merits of Amendment 6, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, Amendment 7, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and those in the name of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig.
As has been explained, Amendment 6 would remove the qualification that an inquest be heard with a jury if a death took place in the custody of the state only if the death was violent or unnatural or the causes of death were unexplained. Amendment 7 includes deaths resulting from the act or omission of a member of the security services. The Government may well point out that these are unnecessary additions, as Clause 7(3) states:
However, the important point remains that the state bears a grave responsibility for the welfare of its citizens and of those who are supposed to enjoy-and who have every right to expect to enjoy-its protection. When something goes wrong as a result of an act or omission by an agent or institution of the state, public confidence is undermined. Juries are one way to help restore public confidence.
As my honourable friend Henry Bellingham said in another place, we worry that jury inquests will become ever fewer in number. That is why we want to see fairness and transparency enshrined in the system. The more narrowly Clause 7 is drawn, the less frequently, we fear, it will be used. By widening it, we indicate that juries should not become a vanishingly rare phenomenon. For us, that is the greatest attraction of the noble Lords' amendments.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, referred to troops who are killed in training. We endorse his amendments. When we debate amendments to Clause 12, we will again touch on that issue, but we support his Amendment 11 as an important step in raising confidence that troops are being treated openly and fairly. The noble and gallant Lord points out that to differentiate between soldiers who are training and those on the front line is spurious, as all our troops are training for active service. We hope that the Government will find a form of words that recognises the importance of the points which he made.
Lord Bach: I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on his promotion to vice-chairman of JUSTICE, if that is the appropriate title. It is an honoured organisation and he deserves the accolade. I know it is particularly important to him because he is succeeding Lord Kingsland, whose wise words we have missed already today.
At present fewer than 500 inquests a year across the whole of England and Wales take place with a jury present. That is less than 2 per cent of the total number of inquests-around 30,000 a year-across the whole of the jurisdiction. Under the reformed system the vast majority of inquests, as the noble Lord said, will continue to take place without a jury and to be heard by a coroner sitting alone. Coroners are already men and women of independence of mind and increasingly well trained. Under the new regime there will be improved recruitment procedures with the aim of appointing coroners of an even higher calibre. They will be even better trained and, under the leadership of the Chief Coroner, part of a more structured and better organised profession. It is therefore right that they should continue to hear most cases sitting alone and require a jury present only when a clear and demonstrable need for an additional independent level of public scrutiny demands it.
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