The Home Secretary and MI5 have lost their bid for intelligence officials to give evidence to the July 7 inquests behind closed doors.
Two High Court judges ruled against Home Secretary Theresa May’s application for a judicial review on the coroner’s decision not to exclude families of those killed in the London bombings in 2005 from hearing sensitive intelligence material.
Lord Justice Maurice Kay and Lord Justice Stanley Burton will give the reasons for their decision at a later date.
Coroner Lady Justice Hallett, who is hearing the July 7 inquests, decided earlier this month that she had the power to exclude the public from the inquest if it was in the interests of national security. However, she concluded that under the Coroners Rules, that power did not extend to barring “interested persons”, such as the relatives of the victims, because they have a legal right to be represented at the inquests. Instead she suggested that the names of intelligence sources and any confidential information could be edited from secret documents before their disclosure.
“This is not an attempt by the Security Service to avoid or minimise the scrutiny of their actions by the coroner by citing the need to protect national security.” James Eadie QC for MI5
“I am still hopeful that – with full co-operation on all sides – most, if not all, of the relevant material can and will be put before me in such a way that national security is not threatened,” she explained in her ruling.
“Sources’ names may be withheld, redactions made. I do not intend to endanger the lives of anyone. I do not intend to allow questions which might do so.”
Lawyers for the Home Secretary and MI5 argued that the coroner will not be in a position to reach fair and accurate conclusions about MI5’s record in tracking the 7/7 bombers unless she has access to secret evidence which cannot be revealed in open sessions.
Read more: Channel 4 News special report on July 7 bombings with in-depth analysis.
James Eadie QC said “This is not an attempt by the Security Service to avoid or minimise the scrutiny of their actions by the coroner by citing the need to protect national security. The position is entirely to the contrary.”
A Home Office spokesman said the Government was committed to co-operating fully with the inquest.
“Along with many victims’ families, we believe a closed hearing for a small part of the July 7 inquests would be the best way for the coroner to consider as much information as possible.” he added.
“The court has decided this is not possible and we will consider the judgment carefully.”
“The whole point of an inquest is that those most affected by untimely death should have some answers to why it happened and reassurance that lessons will be learned for the future.” Liberty’s Corinna Ferguson
But the human rights group Liberty said a secret inquest would have been a contradiction in terms.
“The whole point of an inquest is that those most affected by untimely death should have some answers to why it happened and reassurance that lessons will be learned for the future,” said the group’s legal officer Corinna Ferguson.
“No one doubts that the security agencies do vital and sensitive work, but they also need to respect the ultimate role of the courts in upholding the rule of law.”
Families attending the inquest want intelligence officials to be questioned on their surveillance of two of the men behind the attacks – Mohammed Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer – after they were observed meeting known terror suspects more than a year before the bombings. They say they are relying on full disclosure by the intelligence service to find out if the attacks could have been prevented and to learn lessons for the future.
MI5 says this is not necessary and in any case cannot happen without revealing top-secret files which would jeopardise national security.
The inquests, at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, are seven weeks into hearings which are expected to last five months. They are currently examining the attack at Edgware Road tube station which killed six people.
Today the inquests have been hearing from Elizabeth Wynn-Evans, a doctor who volunteered to treat those injured in the bombed carriage, and members of London Underground staff.