Article 2 and combat immunity – where next after Al-Skeini and Susan Smith?

British_soldier_during_Operation_Desert_ShieldR(Long) v Secretary of State for Defence [2014] EWHC 2391 (Admin) – read judgment

When will a court order an inquiry into the deaths in combat of soldiers serving overseas? Following recent judgments of the English and Strasbourg courts extending the application of the European Convention on Human Rights to zones of armed conflict overseas in certain circumstances, the question is likely to arise frequently over the coming years. In R(Long), the Divisional Court strongly endorsed the doctrine of combat immunity and appeared to set its face against the recent rise in claims against the MoD by soldiers deployed abroad and their next of kin.

This claim involved the deaths of six military police, who were murdered by an armed mob in Majar-al-Kabir, Iraq on 24 June 2003. They were visiting an Iraqi police station and, contrary to standing orders, did not have an iridium satellite telephone with them. The Oxfordshire Coroner had previously held an inquest into the deaths, which opened in 2004 and closed with an unlawful killing verdict on 31 March 2006. He dealt with the lack of effective communications equipment in a Rule 43 report (now a Report to Prevent Future Deaths), but it could not be said in the circumstances that, had they had a radio, their lives would have been saved. As the coroner said, the only person who might have been able to help them in time was the commander of a nearby paratroop patrol and he thought it possible that “had he endeavoured to help, I would be holding an inquest into the deaths not of six brave men but of 18” – [49].

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How not to get a pre-inquest review wrong

Coroners-CourtBrown v. HM Coroner for Norfolk [2014] EWHC 187 (Admin) - read judgment

This is the sad tale of a young woman aged 31 dying in mysterious circumstances where the inquest went off entirely on the wrong footing. Joanne Foreman was not a diabetic but lived with a young boy who was. It was suspected that on the night before she died she had drunk heavily and then injected herself with insulin. The inquest proceeded on this basis. Nobody told the expert that the paramedics had taken a blood glucose from Joanne, which was entirely normal.  Once this was known, it was obvious that the court would quash the findings at inquest and order a new inquest.

But the case contains powerful guidance from the Chief Coroner (sitting as a judge on this decision) about how to conduct the pre-inquest review.

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Reporting restrictions at courts martial: the need for a structured approach – Simon McKay

Royal-Marine-video-012Marines A & Ors v Guardian News and Media & Other Media [2013] EWCA Crim 2367 – read judgment

On 15 September 2011 a patrol of Royal Marine Commandos were involved in an incident, which resulted in one of them, referred to as “Soldier A”, shooting dead an armed but seriously wounded Taliban fighter. Evidence of the shooting emerged later and five members of the patrol were eventually charged with murder. The charges against two of them were later dropped but the three remaining marines were tried for murder before the Court Martial. On 8 November 2013, Soldier A was found guilty of murder.

Quite apart from this extraordinary facts, the trial was unusual for another reason: publication of the identity of each of the defendants was prohibited at the commencement of the proceedings by an assistant Judge Advocate and later the Judge Advocate General (each of the judge’s in the court martial who considered the issue are referred to throughout as “judge”). The Court Martial Appeal Court (essentially the Court of Appeal Criminal Division sitting under a different name) was later invited to review the orders in respect of reporting restrictions. This was linked to the release of video footage and photographs relied on by the prosecution during the case.

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National Security trumps disclosure of Litvinenko secret documents, rules High Court

LitvinenkoSecretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs v Assistant Deputy Coroner for Inner North London [2013] EWHC 3724 (Admin) read judgment

1 Crown Office Row’s Neil Garnham QC and Neil Sheldon acted for the claimant in this case (the Secretary of State for the FCO). They had no involvement in the writing of this post.

The Foreign Secretary successfully appealed against an order for disclosure of secret documents to the Inquest for the death of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko

The Foreign Secretary  in February 2013  issued a certificate of Public Interest Immunity (PII), on the grounds of national security and/or international relations, to prevent the disclosure of a representative sample of Government documents  relating to the 2006 poisoning. In May 2013 the Coroner for the Litvinenko Inquest (Sir Robert Owen) partially rejected that certificate and ordered the disclosure of gists of material relating to some of the key issues surrounding the death(read ruling). In this judgement, a panel of three judges of the High Court unanimously quashed that ruling.

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You can’t be disabled when you’re dead – a footnote to R (Antoniou)

hospital

A somewhat curious additional point arises out of the case of R (Antoniou) – see my earlier post for the main issue – in which the court decided that Article 2 ECHR does not require an independent investigation into deaths in state detention prior to a coroner’s inquest. There was therefore no obligation to ensure that there was an independent investigation into the suicide, or death resulting from self-harm, of a mentally ill person detained under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983. There is such an investigation when a prisoner commits suicide. The Claimant thought this smacked of discrimination against the mentally disabled. The Court disagreed – on the somewhat surprising ground that you can’t be disabled once you’re dead.

Where a prisoner commits suicide, or dies as a result of self-harm, there will be an independent investigation from the outset. Any death in prison or in probation custody is automatically referred immediately to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman for independent investigation. The Independent Police Complaints Commission performs a similar role for deaths in police, immigration or Customs & Excise detention. There is no equivalent independent investigator of deaths in mental health detention, which are investigated by the hospital where they occurred. The Claimant said this distinction discriminates between people who are mentally disabled and those of sound mind.

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1940 Soviet massacre outside reach of European Convention, rules Strasbourg

Trzy_krzyze-1Janowiec and Others v Russia (Applications nos. 55508/07 and 29520/09)read judgment

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has held that it had no competence to examine complaints relating to the adequacy of Russia’s criminal investigation into events that had occurred prior to the adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in 1950: namely the Katyń Massacre of 1940.

The applicants were relations of 12 victims of the Katyń Massacre. They had been executed by the NKVD together with over 20,000 other former Polish Army officers, government officials, and landowners. A criminal investigation into the deaths ran from 1990 until 2004 when the Chief Military Prosecutor decided to discontinue ‘Criminal Case no. 159’ on the grounds that any alleged suspects were dead.

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Coroners inquest enough to satisfy Article 2 in mental health suicide case

hospitalR (Antoniou) v (1) Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust; (2) Secretary of State for Health; (3) NHS England [2013] EWHC 3055 (Admin) - read judgment

Where a patient, detained in hospital under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983, takes their own life, Article 2 imposes procedural obligations on the State to investigate the circumstances of the death. These obligations are fulfilled by a coroner’s inquest. Unlike in prison and police station deaths, there need not be any independent investigation system prior to the inquest stage, and nor does Article 2 require one.

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