Coroner's Bill would make unexplained deaths a mystery

Reporting on coroner’s courts can be one of the least enjoyable parts of a reporter’s job – involving a day spent hearing the often harrowing details of suicides, drug overdoses and tragic accidental deaths.

But such work can be among the most rewarding and worthwhile that a journalist does.

Coroners regularly use their findings to issue public warnings on everything from the dangers of drugs to the risks associated with cooking when drunk (a common cause of fatal fires).

The draft Coroner’s Bill could give coroners the power to exclude the press at will from hearings. If this went ahead, journalists would lose a valuable source of stories. But the loss to society would be far greater.

Without names and faces to stories, the pronouncements of coroners on matters of public safety would have vastly diminished news value. And with journalists routinely excluded, coroner’s courts could swiftly become as irrelevant as Family Court hearings.

If the public has no right to know about unexplained deaths, what is to stop a future government refusing to release details about those arrested by police?

It is another small step on the road to Britain becoming a secret state, where people are allowed to just disappear – rendered invisible to the inquiring eyes of the press.

The draft Coroners Bill is currently out to public consultation. With a new Secretary of State for Justice in Jack Straw and a new PM in Gordon Brown, there is every chance that these regressive proposals will be thrown out if enough journalists protest.

The consultation deadline is 8 September. Details on how to respond to the consultation are available on a Government web site.

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