When any government seeks to deny public justice on the grounds of "national security," alarm bells should ring. Politicians have a track record of confusing the nation's security with their own political convenience. In this example, making inquests "private" is a euphemism for making them secret. I cannot see how it can possibly jeopardise national security for state agents who kill to be cross-examined. Their identities can be protected during a public inquest as the law now stands. Why would a respectable government want more?
If you are a Labour supporter, I appeal to you in particular. It is long past time for you to recognise that dangerous lines are being crossed, day after day. It is not good enough to defend such things just because your party proposes them. You owe your fellow-citizens more than that. Please get in touch with your MP. Please go along to your next local party meeting. Do whatever you can to make it clear to Jack Straw that the magic words "national security" are not enough to make you abandon all decency.
Had this law been in place when the Metropolitan Police shot Jean Charles de Menezes, there would have been no independent public review of the conduct of his killers. It is hard to escape the ignoble conclusion that this is precisely why the government wants it.
Not that the inquest was an adequate process in that case. Had you or I killed Jean Charles in the mistaken belief he was a suicide bomber, we would have been charged with murder and a jury would have decided our guilt or innocence. Disgracefully, one arm of the British state (the Crown Prosecution Service) protected another (the Metropolitan Police) by deciding not to prosecute. That decision - a violation of the principle of equality before the law - is inexplicable in any but political terms.
The only jury the British state allowed near the de Menezes case was the coroner's jury. It
Had it not, in my opinion, been misdirected by the coroner, I suspect the jury would have returned a verdict of unlawful killing in the de Menezes case. That would have made life difficult for the Crown Prosecution Service. We should not, perhaps, be surprised that the government wishes to avoid such narrow squeaks in future. Much though it has packed the judiciary at all levels with sympathetic types, it cannot (yet) guarantee that the coroner at the next such inquest will give such ferocious directions. Therefore, if Jack Straw has his way, the next such inquest will be held in secret. Or, as he prefers to put it, "in private".
This is a characteristic attack on our liberties. It is also an attack on openness and equality before the law. Both are essential to a free society. This is just the sort of issue that should be debated at the forthcoming Convention on Modern Liberty. Not that this authoritarian horror of a government will pay the slightest attention to that. Not that, for so long as such actions are seen as a political virility test, we can rely on a Conservative government to be better. Only when men and women of goodwill make this what it should be - the central political issue of our age - will the juggernaut of tyranny be stopped in its tracks, let alone be reversed.
h/t Harry Haddock