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(a) the senior coroner is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to determine that the continued or repeat occurrence of those circumstances would be prejudicial to the health and safety of members of the public or any section of it, or
(b) the senior coroner is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to consider such circumstances to be in the public interest."
Lord Alderdice: My Lords, Amendment 3 is in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford. During earlier stages of the Bill it was repeatedly drawn to noble Lords' attention-particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and by others-that the genesis of at least some of the momentum behind this Bill was the events of the Shipman inquiry, subsequent to the horrible and terrible events that had occurred. One important failure of the coronial service at that time was to see each death that came to its attention solely as an individual item. It did not pay proper attention to the fact that a whole series of deaths were occurring that formed a pattern which could quite clearly have pointed to what happened. Afterwards there was a great focus on the negligent medical contribution, and properly so, but remarkably little focus in the public mind on the failures of the coronial service.
One problem with Clause 5 is that it draws the scope of inquests quite narrowly in Clause 5(1), to look only at the individual, and only widens it in Clause 5(2) in order to address deaths that raise implications regarding the European Convention on Human Rights. The amendment seeks to make clear to the senior coroner involved that, if there are reasonable grounds-for example, the death of a vulnerable elderly person in a private nursing home, a death in a private workplace, or concerns about transport and workplace
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This issue was raised before by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and has also been pressed by the JCHR. I know that at that stage the Minister made clear that the coroner had the discretion to deal with matters in the way that I have described. However, it is not in the Bill. If part of the whole purpose of this legislation is not only to change the legal structure but to send a message to the community at large and to the officials involved as to what the community expects should be done, it seems that there is no case for not putting it clearly in the Bill. In this amendment we make it clear that if the senior coroner is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for determining that the continued or repeated occurrence of the circumstances led to the death, and that these are in the public interest, he should proceed. We heard what the Minister said before, but it does not, without this amendment, send the kind of message that would be extremely helpful, particularly in light of the events that led to the current legislation. Therefore, I beg to move.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I have a degree of sympathy for the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. The new requirements do not seem unreasonable. After all, if there is a continued risk to the public, something ought to be done about it, the "somebody" in this case being the senior coroner. However, I wonder whether the amendment will expand Clause 5 to a broader remit than is intended by the spirit of the Bill. This is why I say that I have only some sympathy to offer the noble Lord. Clause 5 is deliberately-as I understand it-narrow so that matters to be ascertained are the circumstances surrounding the death of the individual who is the subject of the inquest. I fully accept that the Minister will explain at greater length why he will resist the noble Lord's amendment, but I ask simply to add to the debate the question of whether the amendment would increase a degree of inconsistency in inquests if senior coroners made different decisions on which matters ought to be ascertained. That may cloud the purpose of Clause 5, which we believe is currently a straightforward direction of matters to be ascertained. For those reasons, as I said, it is only a degree of sympathy that I can offer to the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice.
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the amendment would increase the number of Article 2-style investigations if a coroner believes he or she needs to investigate the broader circumstances of the death for reasons of public safety or public interest. Although Clause 5(2) specifies that deaths engaging Article 2-where the state is implicated in the death-should have a wider investigation, this does not mean that the coroner cannot have such an investigation in other cases if he or she takes the view that circumstances demand it. In addition, it is likely that the Chief Coroner would issue guidance on cases where a broader investigation would be appropriate. This might include those situations specified in the amendment; for example, a death which raises wider and significant issues of public health and safety, such as when he or she is
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The key issue here is that the coroner will have the discretion to require a wider investigation if he thinks fit. He will continue to have the discretion to set the scope of any inquest and may decide to investigate the broad circumstances. We do not think that it is in the interests of the vast majority of families for coroners' investigations to be extended. Many already find inquests intimidating and to have the scope expanded would mean that it would no longer be a relatively straightforward inquisition. There are also, of course, resource implications. The wider the scope and the longer the inquest takes, the more coroners would be needed. It is also argued that more legal representation would be required to ensure that family interests are better represented, thus removing families from the heart of the process.
Lord Alderdice: My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says in this regard. However, it is not simply a matter of saying that only the family should be involved at the heart of the inquest. The whole point is that it does not involve just the family of the person who has gone; other families might find themselves in similar circumstances if the matters are not resolved and clarified. That is also an important heart of any inquest.
As regards discretion and the opportunity for the coroner to use it, that has always been the case; it is nothing new. It was the failure to use that discretion energetically in situations where it was necessary that led us precisely to the problems that were the genesis of this Bill. I rather doubt that coroners in general will read the Bill, and particularly the debate in your Lordships' House, in detail. My only hope is that a Chief Coroner will be appointed who will not only read the Bill but the debate and the injunction of the Minister that he should put in place guidance for others which would include this specific issue. With that hope as regards this new Chief Coroner, whoever he or she may be, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"(ca) it is necessary to ensure that an inquest has the information it needs to enable the matters required to be ascertained by the investigation to be ascertained;"."
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, this group of amendments returns us to the use of intercept evidence and its place at inquests. We have
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In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, said that I was barging in in a cavalier fashion in trying to introduce intercept in coroners' courts. She will be happy to hear that I have met the intercept as evidence implementation unit about which she talked. I appreciate that its work is necessary and complex. However, does this House have the will to put at the heart of the Bill a single coronial system that operates when somebody dies, or will it accept the parallel system which the Government prefer because they cannot bring themselves to accept an adapted form of intercept that would work within the coronial system?
The House will recall that this problem was highlighted by the Azelle Rodney inquest, but the increasing use of intercept means that this is a growing problem. The Rodney inquest has been outstanding for four years and we have already talked this afternoon of the effects of this delay, not only on family but also on witnesses. Four years is a long time for a witness to remember any facts accurately and it must seem like a lifetime in hell for the mother whose child has been killed. This inquest cannot be heard, we are told, because of the intercept evidence and/or the method of gathering it. The revelation of this evidence would jeopardise national security or the ability to detect and investigate further crime activity.
We certainly accept on these Benches that there will be occasions when evidence cannot be openly heard and this is not a new problem. In Committee we were reminded that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, first proposed lifting the ban on this evidence 10 years ago. The Chilcot review recommended lifting the absolute ban on Section 17 of RIPA in February 2008. We tried in this House to address these problems in legislation in the Counter-Terrorism Bill in 2008 when the Government proposed secret inquests. In fact, in the face of united opposition, they withdrew that proposition, very sensibly. Today they propose a solution using the Inquiries Act to solve this problem, which we believe is an even worse solution than their previous unacceptable idea of secret juryless inquests. Under the Inquiries Act they will have far too wide-ranging powers to restrict public access to hearings and documents which will restrict the final report.
I do not believe that the Government paid sufficient attention to what the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones-then shadow Minister for Security and now shadow Home Office Minister-said from the Conservative Front Bench when she explained why she supported the amendments we tabled then, which were similar to those before your Lordships' House today. She said:
She put her finger on the two overriding issues. Institutional independence is exactly what would be
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These amendments have been carefully drafted to ensure that all evidence, including that gathered under RIPA, can be heard by a judge sitting as a coroner. He is independent from government and seen to be so. He has the power to address the fact that some of the evidence may need to be heard in private and may never see the light of day. But importantly, the whole process remains within the coronial system with all its independence from the state. This point was eloquently explained in Committee by the late Lord Kingsland in his usual forensic and concise manner when he said:
"There may be room for an amendment that advances the possibility that, in certain circumstances, intercept evidence could be used in a traditional coronial context, with appropriate safeguards. However, if it is considered that the security nature of that evidence is such that relevant matters should be withheld from the jury, the Government could go to the second stage and initiate an inquiry-as long as the amendments that we tabled to the inquiry system were accepted by the Government".-[Official Report, 10/6/09; col. 727-28.]
Government Amendments 21 to 23 miss the central point that Lord Kingsland made so concisely. They also miss the point made in Committee so cogently by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that there are powerful safeguards already in our amendments but that if the Government feel that additional safeguards are needed, they should explain what they are and table those. The Government have ignored the constructive suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and instead simply invite us to accept the unacceptable.
We believe that our coronial system ensures that the coroner sets the remit for an investigation into a death, and not the state. Our coronial system is there to ensure that citizens as jurors are involved in violent or unnatural deaths at the hands of the state. The fact is, they are there as the eyes and ears of society to make sure that the state has not overstepped the line. Ensuring our security may sometimes involve police shooting to kill, for example. We would all accept that there is a fine line between ensuring our security in such a way and impunity for agents of the state when things have gone wrong. It is not for the Government to have any part in deciding where that line is or, indeed, when it has been overstepped. Our amendments would ensure that the coroners system remains at the heart of the most difficult and controversial deaths. I beg to move.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, the noble Baroness referred to the Committee stage, when we had quite a debate on this issue. Amendments 4 and 5 are identical, word for word, to the two amendments that were tabled in Committee and withdrawn after a discussion. I said then that I was puzzled to have to discuss amendments to RIPA to allow intercept as evidence in coroners' courts, as is again proposed in Amendments 4 and 5. I am no less puzzled now than I was in June.
I am puzzled because the committee of distinguished privy counsellors, chaired by Sir John Chilcot and comprising my noble and learned friend Lord Archer, Sir Alan Beith MP and the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, who has now been replaced by the right honourable Michael Howard, reported to the Government in January 2008 after six months of detailed investigation, taking written and oral evidence from an impressive array of those who know about interception, including Members of your Lordships' House, that nine conditions would have to be met-the noble Baroness did not mention this-before intercept could be used as evidence in court. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made clear in the House of Commons in February 2008, the Government accepted the report in its entirety, including its conclusion-again, the noble Baroness did not mention this-that, if the nine conditions were not met, intercept as evidence should not be introduced in courts.
The Home Office intercept as evidence implementation unit was set up and I am pleased to hear that the noble Baroness has visited it and got to know what its work is about. However, as she no doubt discovered, it has not yet completed its detailed work. Anyone who knows anything about interception in all its complexity of operational and other problems is not surprised that such a task is taking this kind of time. Anyone who thinks otherwise fails to appreciate the importance and the enormity of the problems. No one whom I know has ever been against using intercept as evidence as a matter of principle. The practical problems and dangers in its implementation are and have always been the difficulty. When this issue has come up in another place, both the right honourable Alan Beith and the right honourable Michael Howard have made it clear that they, too, think that the Chilcot conditions must be met before there can be a change in this.
The noble Baroness is right that I said in Committee that I thought it cavalier to rush in and do this. She took exception to the word "cavalier" but I have to say to her that, if I substituted another word, it would be even less acceptable, because I find it irresponsible to try to use intercept in coroners' courts in this way, with no regard to-
Lord Lloyd of Berwick: I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I wonder whether, with all her knowledge of this subject, she could give us some idea of when the implementation committee is likely to report.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I have not been in contact with the implementation unit. It will take as long as it takes. It is doing very detailed work and I am not surprised that it is finding it very difficult, for all the reasons that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, has heard me bring forward many times in this House. It is an extremely complicated, difficult problem, with a lot of dangers involved.
I will conclude now, because I do not want to make a long speech. As I said in June, I find myself wholly in agreement with the final sentence of a letter from Mobile Broadband Group, which represents the UK businesses of O2, Orange, T-Mobile, Virgin Mobile,
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"If intercept as evidence is to be introduced into any court (criminal, civil or coroners) it should be done in a comprehensive way, meeting the nine conditions of the Privy Council review in their totality, including a detailed implementation plan which incorporates safeguarding the critical interests of partners' legitimate needs".
Lord Pannick: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, makes some powerful points, if I may respectfully say so. However, I suggest to the House that the answer to the points is that Section 18 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act already allows for the use of intercept material in courts in a number of exceptional circumstances. All that the amendment proposes is that there should be a further exception allowed by reason of the exceptional circumstances of the cases that we are talking about, and the desperate need for the coronial jurisdiction to function effectively. It may be that further conditions should be added to the provision suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller; but if further protective provisions are needed, the Government should come forward and explain what protection is further required in order that this intercept evidence may be used in the coronial jurisdiction.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I will reply to that. There is all the difference in the world between now adding the provision to allow a coroners' court to hear intercept evidence, and the careful, detailed and complicated negotiations and consideration that took place in preparing the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000-I do not know if the noble Lord was involved in that. The Chilcot committee report says that intercept could be used in court under nine conditions. To circumvent that by coming in sideways and saying, "Well, it could come into a coroners' court because we think that is a good idea" is quite unacceptable.
Lord Robertson of Port Ellen: My Lords, I am tempted to say, "Here we go again", and suggest that the participants in this debate-we are virtually all the same-could say simply "Speech number 10" and sit down. First, I declare an interest as an adviser to Cable & Wireless. However, I speak not in that regard but with reference to the positions that I held in government and in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
I worry about this debate, because it seems to be a continuation, relentlessly pursued in the hope that one day, accidentally, the measure will pass. At the Prime Minister's instigation, the House-and Parliament generally-set up a committee of privy counsellors to look into this fraught business. The Prime Minister made it clear at the time that, in principle, he was in favour of intercept as evidence. However, he said that he had had strong representations, especially from the intelligence services, indicating that there were serious reservations about the use of intercept that might affect national security.
At that point, the Prime Minister said, "Right, we will set up a committee of distinguished privy counsellors", and the members of that committee were by any standards distinguished. They looked at the matter, pored over it and came to a conclusion. They said that, again, in principle, intercept as evidence should be used in court, but they said that there had to be nine conditions in order to protect what they defined as protectors of national security. I thought that we had arrived, exhaustingly over a period, at a consensus that we should let the process proceed to see whether the nine conditions could be satisfied. The Home Office has set up a department, and the noble Baroness has been to see it, as have I, to give an opinion on that, but as yet a conclusion has not been reached and the Chilcot committee members have not yet come back to us on whether the nine conditions can be satisfied.
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