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Plans for inquest press gag thrown out

Plans to give coroners the power to ban the media from naming dead people during inquests have been thrown out by the Government.

The proposals, which would have meant coroners could have imposed reporting restrictions in cases such as suicide or child death, were met with stern opposition during the consultation process.

Media Lawyer reports that under the proposals, requests for the anonymity orders could have been made by the families of the deceased, friends and “interested parties”.

This could have given employers a way of staying anonymous in cases in which workers died as a result of their neglect.

The scheme had sparked a storm of protest from the media and was eventually also opposed by coroners.

The decision was confirmed by the Ministry of Justice which published a briefing paper detailing changes made after the consultation.

The briefing said consideration was now being given to how the service for bereaved families could be improved by refining current codes of conduct for the media.

As a result, the Ministry of Justice is working with the Press Complaints Commission to see if the code can be amended.

The Ministry wants to ensure that bereaved families do not suffer extra stress and upset because of insensitive or intrusive reporting of deaths and inquests.

Details of possible changes to the code are given in a discussion paper published by the Ministry.

It includes anonymised details of eight examples of press reporting of inquests which had been brought to the Ministry’s attention in recent months.

These include the case of a woman who tried to kill herself after the local paper reported the inquest on her son who died while committing a sexual act alone. The mother had told others that he had died in a road crash.

Bridget Prentice, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, said: “We want to preserve the rights of the media to report matters which are of proper public interest.

“However, and while acknowledging this, we want to ensure that the rights of bereaved families are protected also and, in particular, that they are not subject to undue stress and upset through insensitive or intrusive press reporting.

“It is important to emphasise that we cannot, in Government, enforce any changes to the code.”