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However, it is useful to have the clarification. I fully appreciate that there has to be finality in any appeals process; one has to reach the end of the road at some time. With the caveat that I should like to read carefully what has been said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 129 withdrawn.

Clause 32 agreed.

Clause 33 : Investigation by Chief Coroner or by judge, former judge or former coroner

Amendment 130

Moved by Lord Bach

130: Clause 33, page 19, line 8, after first "or" insert "the Coroner for Treasure or"

Amendment 130 agreed.

Clause 33, as amended, agreed.

Amendment 131 not moved.

Schedule 8 : Investigation by Chief Coroner or by judge, former judge or former coroner

Amendment 132

Moved by Lord Bach

132: Schedule 8, page 134, line 31, at end insert-

"Investigation by Coroner for Treasure

(1) The Chief Coroner may direct the Coroner for Treasure to conduct an investigation into a person's death.

(2) Where a direction is given under this paragraph-

(a) the Coroner for Treasure must conduct the investigation;

(b) the Coroner for Treasure has the same functions in relation to the body and the investigation as would be the case if he or she were a senior coroner in whose area the body was situated;

(c) no senior coroner, area coroner or assistant coroner has any functions in relation to the body or the investigation.

(3) Accordingly, a reference in a statutory provision (whenever made) to a senior coroner is to be read, where appropriate, as including the Coroner for Treasure exercising functions by virtue of this paragraph."

Amendment 132 agreed.

Schedule 8, as amended, agreed.

Clause 34 agreed.

30 Jun 2009 : Column 122

Clause 35 : Coroners regulations

Amendment 132A not moved.

Clause 35 agreed.

Amendment 133

Moved by Lord Bach

133: After Clause 35, insert the following new Clause-

"Treasure regulations

(1) The Lord Chancellor may make regulations for regulating the practice and procedure at or in connection with investigations under this Part concerning objects that are or may be treasure or treasure trove (other than the practice and procedure at or in connection with inquests concerning such objects).

Regulations under this section are referred to in this Part as "Treasure regulations".

(2) Treasure regulations may be made only if-

(a) the Lord Chief Justice, or

(b) a judicial office holder (as defined in section 109(4) of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (c. 4)) nominated for the purposes of this subsection by the Lord Chief Justice,

agrees to the making of the regulations.

(3) Treasure regulations may make-

(a) provision for the discharge of an investigation (including provision as to fresh investigations following discharge);

(b) provision for or in connection with the suspension or resumption of investigations;

(c) provision for the delegation by the Coroner for Treasure (or an Assistant Coroner for Treasure) of any of his or her functions;

(d) provision allowing information to be disclosed or requiring information to be given;

(e) provision giving to the Lord Chancellor or the Chief Coroner power to require information from the Coroner for Treasure;

(f) provision requiring a summary of specified information given to the Chief Coroner by virtue of paragraph (e) to be included in reports under section 29;

(g) provision of the kind mentioned in paragraph (h) or (i) of section 35(3).

This subsection is not to be read as limiting the power in subsection (1).

(4) Treasure regulations may apply any provisions of Coroners rules.

(5) Where Treasure regulations apply any provisions of Coroners rules, those provisions-

(a) may be applied to any extent;

(b) may be applied with or without modifications;

(c) may be applied as amended from time to time."

Amendment 133 agreed.

Clause 36 : Coroners rules

Amendment 134

Moved by Lord Bach

134: Clause 36, page 20, line 45, after "32(1)," insert "(2A),"

Amendment 134 agreed.

30 Jun 2009 : Column 123

Amendment 134A

Moved by Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde

134A: Clause 36, page 21, line 12, after second "to" insert-

"(i) interested persons, and

(ii) "

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: I would also like to speak to Amendments 136A and 137A. Amendment 134A is straightforward. It applies to page 21 of the Bill, at subsection (2). It would simply insert before "persons", "interested persons". This emanates from my interest in the Bill in trying to ensure that the families of military personnel who have lost their lives in the duty of the country are involved in the process. Whereas this will currently not be disclosed except to persons specified in the direction, I am seeking that the interested persons be named in the direction. Amendment 136A is linked with the provision in that, if accepted by the Minister, it defines what an interested person is. That is covered on page 22 under Clause 38(2)(a), which specifies clearly that an interested person is,

In other words, it is a whole range of family members who may be affected by the death of service personnel. That would put in the Bill clearly what an interested person is, so there would be no way that in the subsequent regulations any of that group of people could be excluded from being consulted and involved.

Amendment 137A is slightly different. It leaves out Clause 36(3)(a). After the Government's decision to drop Clause 11, I was in some confusion as to whether the clause would remain in the Bill. My concern, if it remains in the Bill, is to seek to remove it from the Bill. The reason is that as it stands a coroner may rule and give a direction excluding specified persons from an inquest or part of an inquest if the coroner is of the opinion that the interests of national security so require. I am not against the best interests of national security. I am concerned that here we could have members of the family of the bereaved excluded from some parts of the coroner's case. That situation will do nothing to assist the families. It implies that they should not have the full facts of how their loved ones lost their lives, which I do not think is the intention of the Bill.

If this paragraph were deleted, it would mean that in any circumstance the members of the family of the person who lost their life, as a member of military personnel, would be entitled to attend the coroner's inquest, to have a reason given and to hear what is said rather than be excluded from possibly substantial parts of the hearing. If that were to happen, they would never have a full understanding of what happened when their husband or other member of their family lost their life in the service of their country and, one could also say, they would never arrive at closure. I hope that the Minister is able to accept the three amendments that I have put forward. I beg to move.

30 Jun 2009 : Column 124

3.30 pm

Lord Pannick: I support the observations of the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, particularly in relation to Amendment 137A. Amendment 137B in my name concerns Clause 36(3)(b), which would confer a power to make regulations allowing for a direction which would exclude specified persons from an inquest if the senior coroner were of the opinion that this would be likely to improve the quality of the evidence of a witness under the age of 18.

I have two concerns about Clause 36(3)(b). The first is the breadth of the power. It is not restricted by any requirement to ensure that these rules allow for such exclusion only where necessary because there is no other means of avoiding serious harm to the young person; nor is it restricted by any requirement to ensure that the rules must balance the interests of the young person giving evidence against the interests of another person in remaining present-for example, the interests of the person who may be said to have been responsible for the death in question. I ask the Minister why we need such a broad power when, so far as I know, no such power is found in criminal courts when young people give evidence, which they do regularly.

My second concern about Clause 36(3)(b) is that, on present drafting, it would allow for rules to authorise the senior coroner to exclude all members of the press. Even if there is a case for a rule-making power which allows the senior coroner to exclude individuals from an inquest, I do not accept that it is appropriate to exclude members of the press simply because the young witness might, understandably, find the experience of giving evidence less traumatic the fewer people there are present. Surely the presence of the press at an inquest helps to maintain high standards and avoid rumours and allegations of any cover-up. When members of the public are excluded from a hearing, it is surely all the more important that the press are allowed to remain present. That has long been the practice and the law in youth courts. The Minister will know that under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, when a child or young person gives evidence in criminal proceedings and their evidence is likely to be impeded by their fear or distress, and either the proceedings relate to a sexual offence or there is a fear of witness intimidation, the court has a power under Section 25 to make a direction excluding specified persons from the court. Section 25 adds that a representative of the press must be allowed to remain. Section 25 also helpfully provides that in such cases, the proceedings are still to be treated as having occurred in public for the purposes of libel law.

So if it is necessary to retain Clause 36(3)(b) in some form, can the Minister tell us why there is no protection similar to Section 25 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act, including similar protections for press freedom, in the coroners' context? These points that I have made about Clause 36(3)(b) are also relevant to the drafting of Clause 36(3)(a) and I ask the Minister to think again about these aspects of Clause 36.

Lord Neill of Bladen: I support both the amendment moved by the noble Baroness for the reasons she gave and the amendment moved by the noble Lord,

30 Jun 2009 : Column 125

Lord Pannick, for the reasons he gave. An explanation is seriously needed as to why existing Children Act legislation cannot be used as a model. I also have a problem with the closing words of Clause 36(3)(b) where it talks about the coroner being of the opinion that having the evidence given without the excluded persons being there,

That seems almost to be asking for a mini-trial within an inquest. I do not know how else, on any fair basis, the coroner can possibly arrive at that opinion without allowing it to be tested by questions from interested parties.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: I hesitate to speak on this group of amendments, but I feel that I have to. I support the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde. Indeed, the requirement to specify who the interested persons are relates to an amendment which I will be moving later, and her points are well made. I have a concern, though, about removing the ability of a coroner to exclude certain persons when a child is giving evidence. I say this based on our experience in south Wales, where children in a small community have been intimidated and frightened of speaking out.

I understand the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, in relation to the press but wonder whether there need to be reporting restrictions so that if members of the press had to breach them, they would know that they were doing so but for good reason, which would afford some protection to the child. I would certainly welcome the assurance he mentioned about libel law being protected whether the hearing was in public or not.

I also ask the Minister whether, if we completely adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and were a full signatory to it, that might solve the problem in protecting children when they are giving evidence in what is often a desperately stressful situation because it often relates to the death of their own sibling. That is why I have a concern with simply deleting Clause 36(3)(b).

Lord Tunnicliffe: The rule-making power contained in Clause 36(2)(e) is intended to deal with a specific concern that has been brought to our attention by representatives of UK Special Forces personnel and their families, including bereaved family members of UK Special Forces personnel who have died on active service. This power will enable rules to be made allowing a coroner to give a direction that the names or other details will not be disclosed as part of the investigation or inquest, except to people specified in his or her direction.

The intention is to make rules enabling the names of UK Special Forces personnel who have died to be withheld. This will allow them and their families to retain their anonymity and it repays the duty of confidentiality imposed on UK Special Forces personnel during their period of service. This measure has been introduced as a result of approaches from representatives of UK Special Forces personnel and their families,

30 Jun 2009 : Column 126

including bereaved family members. This power might also be used to enable a name to be withheld in circumstances when a bereaved family or a witness's safety would be jeopardised if their identity were made public.

I understand that taken together, Amendments 134A and 136A would mean that a coroner could disclose the deceased's name not only to persons specified in the direction but to a bereaved family. I believe that that is unnecessary as the bereaved family would know the identity of the deceased member of the UK Special Forces. In other cases, it may not be appropriate for the bereaved family to know the identity of a person subject to a coroner's direction, for example, if the person was a witness who was in fear of their own or their family's safety. If it was appropriate for the bereaved family to know the identity of such a witness, the coroner could specify them as persons to whom the identity should be disclosed.

Amendment 137A would remove Clause 36(3)(a), which largely replicates the existing provisions in rule 17 of the coroners rules. It enables a coroner to hold all or part of an inquest in camera if the coroner is of the opinion that it is necessary to do so in the interests of national security. That may be necessary, for example, for an inquest that needs to cover sensitive military operations. I understand that there may be some concerns that in cases where the deceased person is a member of the Armed Forces, this could lead to members of the deceased person's family and their personal representatives being excluded from attending part of the inquest. It is a concern that I fully understand, but I know that on those rare occasions when the provision has been used by coroners in respect of military operations, most families understand why they have been excluded. I believe that this is another area where the Chief Coroner may consider issuing guidance to coroners. Such guidance could outline in what circumstances the coroner may consider whether to hold part of an inquest in camera in the interests of national security.

When it is necessary to exclude bereaved family members and their personal representatives, as well as the wider public, guidance might also deal with the need to explain the reasons for the decision. Again, I hope that that will put the mind of the noble Baroness at rest that the power in Clause 36(3)(a) will be used proportionately.

The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, would prevent the coroner excluding specific people from an inquest where a young person was giving evidence and the coroner believed that the exclusion would improve the quality of the evidence. I accept, of course, that in most circumstances an inquest should be open to the public, but I can envisage situations when a young person might be traumatised by having to give evidence publicly at an inquest. This measure is about ensuring both the quality of evidence and protecting vulnerable young witnesses.

It is intended that rules will be made under Clause 36(3)(b) requiring the senior coroner who is considering whether to issue such a direction to consider the views expressed by the witness, a parent of the witness and all the circumstances of the case. Provision will also be made in the rules made under the clause,

30 Jun 2009 : Column 127

so that a direction under this provision may not exclude the jury, if there is one, an interested person or a representative of an interested person.

In addition, provision will be made so that any direction providing for a representative of the press to be excluded from an inquest must be expressed so as not to apply to one named person who is a representative of the press who has been nominated for the purpose by one or more news gathering or reporting organisations. Accordingly, the reports of the proceedings will be able to be published in the usual way, and interested parties will not be excluded. Provision is made in criminal legislation enabling the court to exclude persons from a hearing in which a person under 18 is giving evidence. We will write to the noble Lord to let him know the relevant legislation and how it fits.

Our intentions coincide with the spirit of the remarks made by my noble friend Lady Dean. I request that she withdraws her amendment. If on reflecting upon my words she is not satisfied, I would be happy to meet her to go through how the various parts of the Bill will fit together. If the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is unconvinced by my answers, I would also be happy to meet him.

3.45 pm

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: The Minister is absolutely right. Our intentions appear to be the same: to protect the families and ensure they have the access that they are entitled to. I do not challenge the Government's good intentions in putting this provision in Clause 36. I heard the Minister and I thank him for the suggestion that we meet, because the wording as it stands does not meet the points that I have tried to make. I look forward to meeting him. In the mean time, with the leave of the House, I withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 134A withdrawn.

Amendments 135 and 136

Moved by Lord Bach

135: Clause 36, page 21, line 13, leave out from "delegation" to first "of" in line 14 and insert "by-

(i) a senior coroner, area coroner or assistant coroner, or

(ii) the Coroner for Treasure (or an Assistant Coroner for Treasure),"

136: Clause 36, page 21, line 19, leave out "a senior coroner" and insert "the Coroner for Treasure"

Amendments 135 and 136 agreed.

Amendment 136A not moved.

Amendment 137

Moved by Lord Bach

137: Clause 36, page 21, line 24, at end insert "or the Coroner for Treasure"

Amendment 137 agreed.

30 Jun 2009 : Column 128

Amendments 137A and 137B not moved.

Amendments 138 to 140

Moved by Lord Bach

138: Clause 36, page 21, line 35, leave out subsection (4)

139: Clause 36, page 21, line 38, leave out "to (4)" and insert "and (3)"

140: Clause 36, page 21, line 40, at end insert-

"( ) any provisions of Treasure regulations;"

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