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Coroners & Justice Bill chewed a new one by opposition

Mostly duff: Too few plums

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This pretty much reflects our own analysis back in January.

"How can it be sensible to come forward with yet another vast Bill which deals with far too many discrete subjects ranging from coroners’ courts and secret inquests through provocation and diminished responsibility in homicide, reform of the law on assisting suicide, anonymity in police investigations and for witnesses, the treatment of vulnerable witnesses through the use of special measures in court such as video and live link television, adjustments to the law on bail, free speech and homophobic hate crime, the creation of a new sentencing council and measures to deal with the sentencing of dangerous offenders, legal aid, the exploitation of criminal memoirs, and data sharing."

Not to mention the new cartoon law (which we cover in greater depth elsewhere).

David Howarth, MP Lib Dem Shadow Justice Secretary is equally forthright. Speaking to El Reg he said: "It’s a mess: there are far too many topics, making it impossible to scrutinise – and equally impossible to avoid the suspicion that the government is trying to sneak stuff in. But it's all so convoluted, it is hard to tell.

"Take one small example: s57 ends with the suitably cryptic clause 'Nothing in this Article imposes criminal liability on any person acting on behalf of, or holding office under, the Crown.'"

This is what has been referred to as the James Bond exemption, and effectively lets government employees off the hook for acts committed overseas. According to David Howarth: "The government have only just passed law on this. So why re-enact this specific immunity clause? Is there some ulterior motive? Or is it just sloppy drafting?

"We can’t tell because in so many places, the committee lacked the time for carrying out proper scrutiny. New proposals on e-commerce (s124) were not properly scrutinised. It looks as though the government intends using pilots as a means to bring about reductions in legal aid.

"But we can’t be sure."

Both Tories and Lib Dems agreed that one of the most dangerous areas being legislated was the idea of secret inquests. In future, if this Bill is passed, any government minister can declare the need for a secret inquest – that is, one without a jury – and the inquest is automatically secret.

According to Edward Garnier, this is "the most controversial of the many contentious aspects of this ridiculously overstuffed Bill".

David Howarth went further, noting that the government had given assurances that it would attempt to overhaul these proposals but, as there were just two weeks to go before the Bill returns to Parliament, such an overhaul seemed unlikely.

In the end, he suggested, this bill is littered with own goals from start to finish. There may be some traps laid in there by cunning civil servants. Overall, however, the committee view was that "the bill needed tighter drafting even if it was to reflect its own intent".

Mostly cock-up, therefore, rather than conspiracy. ®

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