Home Secretary Theresa May has lost her legal challenge to a coroner’s refusal to hold closed sessions of the 7/7 inquests to hear top-secret evidence.
Coroner Lady Justice Hallett earlier rejected calls from MI5 and the Home Secretary for the families of those killed in the 2005 London bombings to be excluded from hearings while she examines highly sensitive intelligence material.
Lord Justice Maurice Kay and Lord Justice Stanley Burnton upheld the coroner’s ruling at the High Court. The judges announced their decision in a brief hearing and will give their full reasons at a later date.
The Government could now attempt to appeal against the decision or use powers to transform part of the inquest into a public inquiry, which could examine the secret documents in closed hearings.
Lady Justice Hallett, an appeal court judge appointed to hear the 7/7 inquests, concluded that she had powers under Rule 17 of the Coroners Rules 1984 to exclude the public from hearings in the interests of national security.
But she ruled that this did not include “interested persons”, such as the bereaved relatives, who are legally entitled to be represented at the inquests.
The coroner said the secret documents could be edited to remove names of sources and other confidential information.
“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 said in her ruling on November 3. “I do not intend to endanger the lives of anyone. I do not intend to allow questions which might do so.”
Bereaved families want to ask intelligence officials why they did not follow up plot ringleader Mohammed Sidique Khan and his right-hand man, Shehzad Tanweer, after surveillance officers watched them meeting known terror suspects 17 months before the bombings.
MI5 argues this is both unnecessary and impossible because doing so would require the disclosure of top-secret files.