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15 July 2009 : Column 30WS

Legal Aid and Prisoners

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Lord Bach) has made the following written ministerial statement.

Inquests (Service Personnel)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces and I wish to make the latest in the series of quarterly statements to the House about the inquests of service personnel and others who have died overseas. Our deepest condolences go, as ever, to the families of the service personnel who have lost their lives in the service of their country, and in particular to the 31 who have died since our last statement.

All the families whose loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, or who have otherwise lost their lives in connection with the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, remain very much in our thoughts.

Today, we are announcing the progress that has been made since the written ministerial statement on 5 May 2009, Official Report, column 7WS, with information about the conduct of inquests by the Wiltshire and Swindon and other coroners. This statement gives the position at 6 July.

The tables which accompany this statement again include information about those cases which involve a board of inquiry or a service inquiry.


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Progress with inquests

At the time of the last statement, we reported that up to 27 April 230 inquests had been held since June 2006: 216 into the overseas deaths of service personnel and 14 into the deaths of civilians in Iraq whose bodies were repatriated via RAF Brize Norton or RAF Lyneham.

Since 27 April a further 11 inquests have been held into the deaths of service personnel who died in operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. This makes a total of 241 inquests held since June 2006.

Since operations commenced in 2001 there have been a total of 265 inquests into the deaths of service personnel who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, including five service personnel who died in the UK of their injuries. In two further cases, no formal inquest was held, but the deaths were taken into consideration during inquest proceedings for those who died in the same incident.

We remain deeply grateful for the efforts of all the coroners who are involved in conducting these inquests, and totally committed in our support for the independent coronial system.

Our Departments continue to work closely together, and with the coroners, to review the way in which the system is working and to look for opportunities, prior to the implementation of the coroners' legislation which is currently before Parliament in the Coroners and Justice Bill, to make improvements for the benefit of the bereaved families.

Open inquests

i Pre-31 March 2007 Fatalities

The statement in May reported that there was one remaining inquest to be held into a death where the body was repatriated via RAF Brize Norton prior to 31 March 2007, into the death of Marine Wigley. That inquest has since been concluded and there are no outstanding pre-March 31 2007 inquests in the Oxfordshire coroner's district

ii Post-1 April 2007 Fatalities

Since October 2007, additional resources have been provided by the Government to ensure that a backlog of inquests does not build up in the Wiltshire and Swindon district (since 1 April 2007 fatalities have been repatriated via RAF Lyneham). The coroner transfers inquests for service personnel to a coroner closer to the bereaved family, where possible. We are pleased that the district continues to benefit from the experience and expertise of David Masters, who retired as coroner on 31 March, following his appointment as an assistant deputy coroner by his successor, David Ridley.

There are 76 open inquests to be concluded into the deaths of service personnel who died in Iraq and Afghanistan whose bodies were repatriated after 1 April 2007 (36 involving deaths in the last six months). Of these, Mr. Ridley has retained 41 inquests, while 35 inquests are being conducted by coroners closer to the next of kin. At 6 July, two fatalities had been repatriated but inquests were yet to be opened, and four recent fatalities awaited repatriation. Hearing dates have been set in 22 of these cases.


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iii. Inquests into the deaths of service personnel who returned home injured

There remain six inquests to be held of service personnel who returned home injured and subsequently died of their injuries.

We shall continue to keep the House informed about progress with the remaining inquests. I have placed tables in the Library of the House which outline the status of all cases and the date of death in each case. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

Office of the Public Guardian (Annual Report and Accounts)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): The "Office of the Public Guardian's Annual Report and Accounts for 2008-09" has been laid before Parliament today. This document gives full details of the agency's performance and expenditure for the 12 months from 1 April 2008, and includes the Public Guardian's annual report to the Lord Chancellor about the discharge of his functions pursuant to section 60 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

A revised version of the "Public Guardian Framework Document" has also been placed in the Libraries of both Houses to reflect recent changes to the governance structure of the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG). References to the OPG's responsibility for the Court of Protection's administrative functions have been removed, reflecting the move of the Court of Protection from the Office of the Public Guardian to Her Majesty's Court Service on the 1 April 2009. The document now also reflects the OPG's new clearer governance arrangements. This now consists of two boards-the statutory Public Guardian Board and the OPG's Executive Board-following the removal of the OPG Agency Board as a third board in the previous structure.

Copies of the "Office of the Public Guardian Framework Document" will also be available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office and from the website of the OPG: www.publicguardian.gov.uk.

United Kingdom Supreme Court

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): On 2 April 2009 I announced that the Middlesex Guildhall had been handed over to the Ministry of Justice. I am pleased to be able to report further significant progress on the Supreme Court Implementation Programme-the programme remains on time and within budget.

First, I have received a written assurance from the noble and learned Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers that the Law Lords are satisfied that the refurbished Middlesex Guildhall will meet the needs of the new Supreme Court. The refurbishment has been completed to the highest standards, respecting the heritage of this unique building. This is consistent with both the status of the court and the needs of the Supreme Court Justices, court users and the public for modern accessible facilities. On this basis I have now signed the commencement
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order that will enable the court to come into being on 1 October 2009, as I am satisfied the court will be fully operational by that date.

Lord Phillips has made the rules that will underpin the workings of the court and these have been laid before Parliament. In making the rules, Lord Phillips has taken into account his statutory duty to ensure that the rules are both simple and simply expressed and that they have a view to ensuring the court is accessible, fair and efficient. The rules have been widely supported on consultation.

In addition the responses to public consultation on the fees payable in the court have been analysed. A summary of the responses to consultation and the Government's proposed way forward have now been published. Consultees were in general agreement with the course proposed, with the exception of fees for devolution cases. While consultees agreed that the fees for devolution cases should be brought into line with civil fees generally, they were concerned that to make this change in one step represented too steep an increase-we have therefore decided to implement this change in stages.

The Fees Order for the court will be laid on this basis.

I previously announced that the anticipated running costs for the UK Supreme Court would be £12.3 million. At present Her Majesty's Court Service pays £1.2 million pension and national insurance contributions with respect to the Law Lords. For transparency this will be transferred to the UK Supreme Court from 1 October. This does not represent any additional cost to the public purse. For the first year we have provided an additional £300,000 to cover transitional set-up costs, this is being met from within existing resources. The costs of some aspects of the court's operation, including security, remain to be finalised and so the anticipated running costs will continue to be refined and reviewed on an ongoing basis.

Northern Ireland

Police Ombudsman (Annual Report and Accounts)

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland's annual report and accounts for the year ended 31 March 2009 has been laid before the House today.

Transport

Maritime and Coastguard Agency (Correction)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark): I regret to inform the House that the answer I gave on 8 July to a parliamentary question, Official Report, column 802W, about the breakdown of staff employed at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) was incorrect.

The MCA has checked the figures and the answer should read:

The number of staff employed by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), broken down into the categories asked, since 2002 is shown in the table. The MCA's systems only hold records back to 2002:


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2002200320042005200620072008

Surveyors

173

177

188

194

190

192

181

Coastguard Control Centre

537

515

531

545

534

532

501

Administrative

386

411

423

473

467

472

422

Human Resources

47

55

50

57

58

58

54


Administrative staff includes, for example, Senior Managers and Policy Leads as well as Administrators.

Low Carbon Transport: A Greener Future-Strategy

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Sadiq Khan): My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Department for Transport, Lord Adonis, has made the following ministerial statement.


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