In a victory for the Newspaper Society, the Government has accepted the media should be given notice of any intention to exclude press and public from public inquiries or deny them access to documents and evidence.
This is despite the absence of any formal provision to that effect within the Inquiries Act 2005 or the new Inquiries Rules 2006.
Under the Inquiries Act 2005, ministers and inquiry chairmen can issue restriction notices to exclude press and public from an inquiry or to withhold documents and evidence from disclosure and publication. The Inquiries Rules, which deal with procedural matters, came into force on 1 August.
Government response to the consultation published said that although it had decided against the inclusion of any formal procedure for advance media notification of restriction notice applications and the grounds for such applications (as the NS had suggested), it envisages that the media should be given such notice.
This statement is consistent with correspondence between the Department of Constitutional Affairs and the NS during the passage of the Bill.
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Baroness Ashton assured the society that she fully expected that the media and the public should have the right to make representations about the issuing of restriction notices, and that there was nothing in the Bill to prevent this.