Forces Inquests - Secretary of State's attempt to "gag" coroners (March 18th 2008)
North Thanetís MP, Roger Gale, has this (Tuesday) morning accused the Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne, of trying to gag the coroners presiding over the inquests of armed forces personnel who have fallen on active service.
The MP, who has waged an ongoing two-year parliamentary campaign to secure funding so that bereaved families can be legally represented at the inquests said at the Commons today:
"Only last week I received a parliamentary answer indicating that the State had spent in excess of £1.5 million representing itself - a figure that does not include fees paid to lawyers bought in to fight legal challenges such as the one that the Secretary of State has embarked upon.
Only £100,000 has been spent in support of the bereaved families, who are therefore dependant upon the Coroner to ensure that some sort of fair play and justice is achieved.
Up to now the Prime Minister has sheltered behind the "inquests are not trials" argument but in this High Court action it is now clear that he wants to muzzle robust Coroners who are prepared to tell it like it is. If the Ministry of Defence is guilty of failure to properly provide for and protect our troops then coroners must be free to say so and if that lays the Government open to civil actions for damages then so be it.
The Secretary of State has, I believe, indicated very clearly and precisely why it is indeed necessary for bereaved families to be provided with legal support at these inquests. The State is prepared to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds guarding its own backside and fighting legal challenges and it is time that resources were more evenly matched".
Roger Gale is fighting this battle in the interests of constituents families who have lost, respectively, a son and a daughter while serving in Iraq.