2 October 2018
Coroner for the Birmingham Inquests v Hambleton & Ors  EWCA Civ 2081 (26 September 2018)
At an inquest, the Coroner must investigate four things: the identity of the deceased and how, when and where they came by their death. Ordinarily, the question ‘how the deceased came by their death’ means ‘by what means’ they came by their death (R v. North Humberside Coroner, ex parte Jamieson  QB 1).
However, in some cases, an enhanced investigative duty arises. When the death under investigation may have involved a failure by the state to fulfil its positive obligations under Article 2 of the ECHR, the interpretation of ‘how’ must be expanded to include an inquiry into the ‘circumstances in which the deceased came by his or her death’.
Coroner for the Birmingham Inquests (1974) v. Hambleton & Ors.  EWCA Civ 2081 involved such an inquest. The central question for the Court of Appeal (composed of a panel including the Lord Chief Justice and the Vice-President of the Criminal Division of the Court) was whether, as part of his investigation into the deaths of the 21 victims of the 1974 Birmingham bombings, the Coroner was required to call evidence directed at identifying those responsible for the bombings. The Court of Appeal decided that, in this case, the Coroner was not so obliged.