R (Maughan) v Her Majesty’s Senior Coroner for Oxfordshire UKSC 46
The Supreme Court has now issued its judgment in this important case for Coroners and inquests dealing with the standard of proof to be applied where the death might have been caused by suicide or unlawful killing.
Everyone who has done an inquest where these conclusions were realistic on the evidence has traditionally gone along with the idea that in order to be satisfied that either conclusion should be returned the criminal standard of proof was required.
This is often seen in practice, particularly where suicide is concerned, as being a way for Coroners to return an open verdict where there is no positive and direct evidence that the deceased intended to take his or her life, even if the surrounding circumstances point clearly in that direction. Such an approach can be welcome to families grieving the loss of a family member.
However, that all changed with the judgment of the Divisional Court and then the Court of Appeal in this case (see my earlier blog post on this judgment here). This long held practice was held to be devoid of a sound legal basis and that given that the inquest was not itself a criminal proceeding then the civil standard ought to be applied. The Supreme Court has now confirmed that that is right, albeit by a majority of 3 to 2.
The result is that all forms of conclusion in the coroner’s court whether narrative or short form are to be rendered on the balance of probabilities. This includes suicide and unlawful killing.
District Judge Coleman, a judge sitting in the Westminster Magistrates Court, has issued a summons for Boris Johnson to appear in the Crown Court. He will face three charges alleging misconduct in a public office in a private prosecution brought by Marcus Ball. The offences alleged are indictable only which means that they can only be heard in the Crown Court.
Marcus Ball, a 29-year-old businessman who has brought the proceedings with the help of crowdfunding, alleges that the frontrunner for the Tory leadership lied about the amount of money which the UK sends to the EU both during the referendum campaign and during the general election campaign in 2017.
The controversial claim that £350m a week was sent by the UK to the EU and could better be spent on public services in the UK instead was a particularly eye catching aspect of the Leave campaign and attracted considerable criticism at the time and since. Some of that criticism particularly from the Institute of Fiscal Studies which branded the claim “absurd” and UK Statistics Authority whose chair described the claim as a misuse of statistics forms an important part of the case.
At issue in this procedural hearing was whether the court should issue a summons for Boris Johnson to attend court. He opposed the application and lost. He will be required to appear therefore be required to attend court for a preliminary hearing and the case will then be sent to the Crown Court.
This case is a salutary reminder to all who conduct litigation about the necessary elements of procedural fairness which continue to underlie our system of civil justice; even in a modern context when a cards on the table approach characterises many disputes from a very early, often pre-action, stage.
In Sait v GMC the context was regulatory proceedings against Mr Sait, an experienced consultant orthopaedic surgeon. At the conclusion of a seven day hearing, the MPTS found certain facts proved against him in a case alleging inappropriate sexually motivated conduct towards a patient. The Tribunal ordered that he be suspended for 3 months.
He appealed against the finding that he did what he did with sexual motivation and therefore against the finding that his fitness to practise was impaired by virtue of misconduct. The grounds of appeal were that the Tribunal failed to observe essential standards of procedural fairness because it was never sufficiently put to the appellant, whether in the course of cross-examination, or in the Tribunal’s own questions, that his conduct was sexually motivated.
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