The Birmingham coroner has condemned Government reforms giving him the power to hold some inquests in secret, saying it heralded "the end of justice in England".
Aidan Cotter (pictured) said the proposals, unveiled yesterday by Constitutional Affairs Minister Harriet Harman, were "an absolute disgrace".
Mr Cotter, who is the coroner for Birmingham and Solihull and president of the Coroner's Society, said his personal view was that while reform of the system was needed, it would not be achieved by shrouding inquests in secrecy.
Under the proposals, inquests into high-profile crimes such as the Soham murders would be held in secret.
Ms Harman claimed it would regulate the process by introducing privacy safeguards while making the system more open.
However, Mr Cotter - who stressed he had not read the report in full - dismissed the prospect of being granted extra powers to decide what inquests should be in public.
"I believe that the Government is suggesting that coroners have the power to order some inquests to be held in secret," he said.
"This is an absolute disgrace.
"Anything a coroner does should be in public.
"The whole point of the coroner's system is that you have ordinary judges like me holding inquests in public.
"If coroners are saying who can be kept out of inquests, then it is the end of justice in England."
Secrecy powers had been proposed by Dame Janet Smith following her inquiry into the mass murders by GP Harold Shipman but rejected by coroners.
The Government's proposals also include giving families more rights to challenge findings.
Mr Cotter said some regulation would help but coroners could encounter problems because of the nature of modern relationships.
"On the subject of giving more rights to families, I am interested to see how the Government plans to define 'family'," he said.
"To give an example, a man decides to take his own life. He left his wife and children six years ago to live with another woman. Who is his family? His new partner? His wife? His children?
"Also, do we include same-sex partners as family? What about close friends?
"I think most coroners already work closely with families and the negative stories that feature in the newspapers are unrepresentative.
"Families write to my staff on a regular basis to thank them for what they have done.
"Of course regulation on this area will help, providing families understand that they are not running the inquest."
He accepted some of the reforms were necessary but said they could only be done with more resources.
"No amount of reform will achieve anything unless the Government puts more money into the system."