Justice is paramount over privacy

PUBLISHED: 10:57 30 June 2006 | UPDATED: 21:57 28 May 2010

It s a bit of a cliché I know, but justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. It is an accepted facet of the way we live that we know what goes on in our courts, that defendants are treated fairly (perhaps too fairly sometimes?) and that t

It's a bit of a cliché I know, but justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.

It is an accepted facet of the way we live that we know what goes on in our courts, that defendants are treated fairly (perhaps too fairly sometimes?) and that the verdict and sentence are a proper response to the evidence.

Successive governments have tinkered with the system, adding a few adjustments here and a few restrictions there.

Of course there have to be restrictions. As a pressman I think there are too many. Nevertheless the basic rule is that everything is for public consumption unless there is a very good reason for it not to be.

Inquests fall into the same category. Although they do not operate in the realms of blame and punishment, they are, in effect, courts, headed by coroners who establish the causes of unexpected deaths, often as a result of road accidents, industrial mishaps or criminal activity.

Here again the working of inquests are open to public scrutiny, usually through the media. And here again we are set for a bit more tinkering.

The Government has just published its draft Coroner Reform Bill which creates a new and frightening power for coroners - discretion to order that the name of the deceased be not published.

I have no reason to believe that current coroners in our area would not use this discretion wisely, but we may not always have wise and objective coroners.

The aim of the proposed restriction is to save families from the pain of an invasion into their privacy. That is a truly wobbly concept.

Harriet Harman, Minister for Constitutional Affairs, whose job it is to steer this Bill through Parliament, asked two significant questions last week:

n Should the parents of a man who committed suicide after a long bout of depression have to see him named in the press?

n If a child dies at a nursery and the parents, who are not public figures, want privacy, should they have to be named publicly at an inquest?

The answer to both questions must be 'yes'.

It may sound heartless, but sympathy for families is not the issue. Justice and transparency is.

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