U-turns, u-turns…

Listening to the radio late last night on the way back from London… if I’d done a u-turn every time there had been news of one, I would never have made it home ;^)

Next week sees the Coroners and Justice Bill return to the House of Commons for the Report stage and Third Reading (see here for a summary of the Bill and its progress through the various stages). A quick glance at that page indicates just what a mish-mash of different policies it is trying to put into law:

“Key areas

  • Reforms the law relating to death certification and coroners, requiring some inquests to be heard without a jury
  • Facilitates sharing of personal data by the public sector
  • Amends the defences of diminished responsibility and provocation in homicide cases
  • Simplifies language in the offence of assisting or encouraging suicide
  • Removes an exemption for ‘discussion or criticism’ in the new offence of inciting hatred on grounds of sexual orientation
  • Extends the law proscribing possession of child pornography to include non‑photographic images
  • Increases flexibility in the help given to vulnerable witnesses giving evidence
  • Changes rules on live links for defendants
  • Reforms the system of granting bail in murder cases
  • Makes changes to legal aid
  • Introduces measures to prevent offenders profiting from accounts of their crimes.”

I was gratified to hear an opposition spokesman on legal affairs re-iterate the point I made a couple of weeks ago – namely, that having a clause buried deep in a massive Bill like this which completely over-rides existing statutes such as the Data Protection and Human Rights acts cannot be a good way to make law.

So, u-turn #1: it seems the Justice Miniister, Jack Straw, really does intend to delete the offending clauses from the CJB. I think that is good news – though I cannot believe it signals a complete withdrawal of the Government’s plans for an over-arching public sector data-sharing policy, and it remains to be seen whether Mr Straw can come back with something which does a better job of balancing citizens’ rights and the public good with his administrative objectives.

U-turn #2: Mr Straw again, this time retreating from proposals that he, single-handedly, should be able to determine whether coroners’ inquests should be held in secret. Again, I think this sounds positive – though Isabella Sankey, speaking for the human rights group Liberty, sounds less convinced: “It is a well-established Whitehall trick to draft the most unpalatable law with a view to making supposed concessions at the last minute”. Still, it is hard to see how less accountability and transparency in the holding of coroners’ inquests would be a good thing.

And u-turn #3: This time it’s our old F1 friends Mr Ecclestone and Mr Mosley, who have decided to postpone their last-minute plans to revise the entire scoring and ranking system for the F1 drivers’ championship. According to this piece on the BBC site, Ecclestone and Mosely, speaking through the FIA, wanted it done their way, the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) wanted it done a different way, and the World Motorsport Council (WMC) favoured yet another option.

Presumably, when you have that many stakeholders, the sensible thing is to get their agreement first, through some kind of open discussion… but that just isn’t the way the Moslestone duo does things.

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