Category: Inquests and Inquiries


Abolition of Chief Coroner post slammed

19 October 2010 by

In August we commented on the risk that long-awaited reform of the coronial system would be shelved by the Ministry of Justice, arguing that the wait for promised reforms had left relatives of the dead in legal limbo.

To the dismay of campaigners, the new office of the Chief Coroner for England and Wales has fallen victim to the “bonfire of the quangos“.

The post was created by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which the Ministry of Justice said aimed “to deliver more effective, transparent and responsive justice and coroner services for victims, witnesses, bereaved families and the wider public”.  In February, the previous Government heralded the post:

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Coroners take action on deaths in custody

29 September 2010 by

Coroners are making more recommendations about how to avoid deaths in custody, according to the latest report from the Ministry of Justice.

The latest statistics on “rule 43 reports”, where coroners make reports to prevent future deaths, show that deaths in custody account for 11% of reports made, up from just over 6% in the two previous reporting periods.

Since July 2008 coroners have had a wider power to make reports to prevent future deaths and a person who receives a report must send a response within 56 days.

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Widow of 7/7 bomber refused legal aid for inquest

27 August 2010 by

Patel, R (on the application of) v Lord Chancellor [2010] EWHC 2220 (Admin) (27 August 2010) – Read judgment

The wife of the purported ringleader of the ‘7/7’ London bombings has failed in her judicial review of the Lord Chancellor’s decision to refuse her funding for legal representation at the inquest into the bombings.

Ms Sumaiya Patel, the former wife of Mohammed Sidique Khan, had her initial application for funding to the Lord Chancellor refused. She sought a ruling from the High Court to quash that decision.

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Inquest reforms delay leaves relatives of the dead in legal limbo

13 August 2010 by

David Kelly

It has long been accepted that the coroners’ courts, which investigate tens of thousands of deaths per year, are in urgent need of reform. But long-awaited changes are now under threat from Ministry of Justice budget cuts, leaving relatives of the dead with an inconsistent system of varying quality. This arguably places the state in breach of is obligations under human rights law.

A death is referred to a coroner when there is reasonable cause to suspect that it was violent or unnatural, or if the cause is unknown. In 2009, just under half of around 460,000 deaths were reported to the coroner, and 31,000 inquests were then opened. Inquests are rarely out of the news; for example, today calls were renewed for an inquest into the death of David Kelly. In the absence of obvious negligence or suspicious circumstances triggering a criminal investigation or compensation claim, inquests are often the only chance for relatives to get to the bottom of how a person died.

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Feature | The duty to investigate deaths under human rights law: Part 2

15 July 2010 by

R (Humberstone) v Legal Services Commission [2010] EWHC 760 (Admin) – Read case

Part 2 of Matthew Hill’s feature on the duty to investigate deaths under human rights law (read Part I).

A recent High Court decision (see previous post) concerning the funding of a party at a coroner’s inquest has highlighted the importance of distinguishing between the two different types of investigative duty that arise under Article 2 ECHR.

It is argued in this post that imprecise terminology and a failure to appreciate that Article 2 is engaged in Jamieson as well as Middleton inquests has confused this area, and that the learned judge in R (Humberstone) v Legal Services Commission [2010] EWHC 760 (Admin) erred by eliding the investigative duties and the case-law from which they emerged.

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Feature | The duty to investigate deaths under human rights law: Part 1

12 July 2010 by

Silih v Slovenia (2009) 49 E.H.R.R. 37 – Read judgment, McCaughey and Quinn’s Application [2010] NICA 13 – Read judgment

This is Part I of Matthew Hill’s feature. Click here for Part II.

A recent decision of the Strasbourg Court has reopened the issue of the State’s obligation to investigate deaths under the European Convention on Human Rights, leaving a tension between the European Court’s view and that of the highest UK court.

In Silih v Slovenia (2009) 49 E.H.R.R. 37, the European Court looked again at the question of whether the investigative obligations under Article 2 ECHR have retrospective effect in domestic law. A majority of the Court held that Slovenia’s failure to provide an effective independent judicial system to determine responsibility for the death of a patient receiving medical treatment violated Article 2 even though the death itself took place before the Convention came into force in that state.

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Torture inquiry details announced

6 July 2010 by

Binyam Mohamed

The details of the forthcoming wide-ranging public inquiry into British complicity with “rendition” and torture abroad have been announced by the Prime Minister.

He also announced the public release of guidance, formerly secret, on the questioning of suspects overseas, and that a new committee is to review the use of secret evidence in court proceedings.

The statement can be read in full here. Contrary to some reports, the new inquiry is to be judge-led. It will be headed by Sir Peter Gibson, a retired Court of Appeal Judge, who amongst other things headed up the Omagh bombing intelligence review in  2008, and currently is serving as the Intelligence Services Commissioner, a post which involves reviewing actions taken by the Secretary of State under the Intelligence Services Act 1994 and the activities of British intelligence.

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Human rights on the battlefield – a postscript on ‘dicta’ (and ‘dicta’)

1 July 2010 by

Even if technically obiter, it is suggested that the reasoned decision of the majority of the Supreme Court in Smith is likely to be regarded as binding in practice, if not in strict theory.

This is a postscript to Adam Wagner’s post this morning on the UKSC decision in R (Smith) v. MOD (see our post summarising the decision or read the judgment), commenting on the debate as to the authority of the judgment of the majority on the jurisdictional issue.

It may be worth bearing in mind the weight likely to be accorded by any lower court to the views of the majority of a 9 judge constitution of the Supreme Court.  Even if not technically binding, it is hard to imagine any judge at first instance, or even the Court of Appeal, having the courage to depart from the reasoned views of the majority on this point, unless arising in some unforeseen or unusual factual context.

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Was human rights on battlefield decision binding?

1 July 2010 by

It is possible that yesterday’s controversial Supreme Court decision on human rights on the battlefield was merely an academic exercise and therefore not binding on future courts.

There has been significant commentary and conjecture over the decision in R (Smith) v Secretary of State for Defence & Anor (see our post or read the judgment). The Supreme Court seemed to have decided by a 6-3 majority that the Human Rights Act did not apply once a soldier stepped out his or her base, therefore reversing a previous decision by the Court of Appeal that it did.

But the most interesting comments from a legal perspective have been on the question as to whether the decision was in fact binding. Adrian O’Neil QC picked up the point in an interesting commentary piece on the UK Supreme Court Blog.

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Human Rights Act does not apply on the battlefield, says Supreme Court [updated]

30 June 2010 by

R (Smith) v Secretary of State for Defence & Anor [2010] UKSC 29 – Read judgment

The Supreme Court has ruled by a 6-3 majority that the Human Rights Act does not apply on the battlefield and soldiers are not automatically entitled to inquests arising from deaths in foreign conflicts.

The case related to Private Jason Smith, a member of the Territorial Army who died from heatstroke in Iraq in 2003.

The decision has come as a relief to the Ministry of Defence. In recent years, coroners have been highly critical of the armed forces’ protection of soldiers on the battlefield, and this case had the potential to open up the Government to a series of claims for compensation by soldiers and their relatives. However, the Supreme Court has (narrowly) taken the view that the Human Rights Act 1998 was not designed to apply in such cases.

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Upcoming seminar on Inquest law

21 June 2010 by

We have been alerted to a 1-day seminar organised by Lexis Nexis on Inquest Law and the latest changes including those introduced by the Coroners & Justice Act. The seminar is on Wednesday 22 September 2010 in central London.

We posted last week on the duties to investigate deaths imposed on states under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, particularly in the context of public inquiries and inquests.

The seminar includes a comprehensive-looking agenda, including a session on The State’s duties under Article 2 ECHR: The Human Rights Act and inquests, run by Hugh Southey QC of Tooks Chambers.

Click here to download more details.

Bloody Sunday, human rights and the duty to investigate deaths [updated]

16 June 2010 by

Lord Saville has already come under significant criticism for the time and money which has been swallowed up by the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. Future public inquiries could now be under threat as new Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has accused the Lord Saville of allowing the process to get “ludicrously out of hand“.

The Saville Inquiry Report was published yesterday and can be downloaded here, a summary here and a good analysis here. Lord Saville’s long-awaited inquiry into the Bloody Sunday killings of 30 January 1972 was set up to investigate the events surrounding a march in Derry when 29 protesters were shot by British soldiers, leading to 13 deaths. The Inquiry has been widely criticised prior to its findings.

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Inquests and legal aid for relatives of the dead

11 May 2010 by

Recent weeks have seen considerable media attention paid to the role of inquests and their increasing significance for relatives of the deceased.

Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, providing legal protection for everyone’s right to life, in some circumstances requires investigation into a death such as an inquest. It places a duty upon the state to ensure the investigation is properly conducted. This may entail providing funding, such as legal aid given to relatives so they may be represented at the hearing.

On 1 May 2010, The Times published “How coroners have become the public voice of grieving relatives” which considered the trend in recent years for coroners to take a role similar to that taken by a chair of a public inquiry. Frances Gibb wrote that David Ridley, a coroner in an inquest for two soldiers killed in Afghanistan, made comments which will give some comfort to grieving relatives. Only two days earlier, another coroner, David Masters, “castigated US authorities’ failure to cooperate in an investigation into the “friendly fire” deaths of three British soldiers”.

The article goes on to note that

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Refusal to grant legal aid to mother for inquest into son’s death was unlawful

14 April 2010 by

Humberstone, R (on the application of) v Legal Services Commission [2010] EWHC 760 (Admin) (13 April 2010)

Read judgment

It would seem that legal aid is the topic of the day. Mr Justice Hickinbottom in the High Court has quashed the decision of the Legal Services Commission (LSC) not to grant an applicant for Judicial Review, Mrs Humberson, legal aid for representation at the inquest enquiring into the death of her son, Dante Lee Kamara. The judge took the opportunity set out five criteria which the LSC should apply when considering future applications (listed after the page break below).

Dante died in hospital on 1 July 2008 after an asthma attack. He was aged 10. The judge criticised the LSC’s decision not to grant funding to his mother, saying:

95. I regard the failure of the Commission to take into account the true nature and seriousness of the allegations Miss Humberstone faces at the inquest as a particularly serious defect in the decision making process: one reason why this case is unusual and essentially exceptional is because of the serious allegations Miss Humberstone faces, at the instigation of the agents of state who, she suspects, may have caused or contributed to her son’s death. This case does not open up any floodgate. I do not demur from the view in the Lord Chancellor’s Guidance, which itself reflects comments in Khan, that “in the overwhelming majority of cases the coroner would be able to conduct an effective judicial investigation himself without there being any need for the family of the deceased to be represented” (paragraph 27.4.7 of the Funding Code, quoted at paragraph 37 above). Given the nature of an inquest, and the specialist nature of coroners, that must be so.

Article 2(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights provides: “Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law“. That primary obligation includes not only a duty on the state not to take life, but also a duty on the agents of the state to take appropriate legislative and administrative steps to protect individuals from threats to life when in their care. This also encompasses a duty, in some circumstances, to investigate a death, and if necessary, provide funding so that the investigation, including an inquest, functions properly.

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Chairman of Baha Mousa Public Inquiry will not force the MoD to disclose Attorney General human rights advice

6 April 2010 by

Lord Goldsmith

Sir William Gage, the Chairman of the Baha Mousa Public Inquiry, has refused an application by participants in the Inquiry to compel the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to disclose advice produced by the former Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith.

The MoD claimed legal professional privilege in respect of the Attorney-General’s Advice of 2003 on the application of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) to the British Army’s operations in Iraq during the Iraq war.

The Inquiry, which has been ongoing since July 2009, aims to investigate and report on the circumstances surrounding the death of Baha Mousa by the British Army and the treatment of those detained with him, in particular where responsibility lay for approving the practice of conditioning detainees by any members of the 1st Battalion, The Queen’s Lancashire Regiment in Iraq in 2003.

Read more:

  • You can read the Chairman’s full Ruling here.
  • Read coverage in The Times

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Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption ALBA Allison Bailey Al Qaeda animal rights anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 Artificial Intelligence Asbestos assisted suicide asylum Australia autism benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery Catholicism Chagos Islanders Children children's rights China christianity citizenship civil liberties campaigners climate change clinical negligence Coercion common law confidentiality consent conservation constitution contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus Coroners costs Court of Protection crime Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty defamation deportation deprivation of liberty Detention diplomatic immunity disability disclosure Discrimination disease divorce DNA domestic violence duty of candour duty of care ECHR ECtHR Education election Employment Employment Law Employment Tribunal Environment Equality Act Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Court of Justice evidence extradition extraordinary rendition Family Fertility FGM Finance football foreign criminals foreign office France freedom of assembly Freedom of Expression freedom of information freedom of speech Gay marriage Gaza gender genetics Germany Google Grenfell Health high court HIV home office Housing HRLA human rights Human Rights Act human rights news Huntington's Disease immigration India Indonesia injunction Inquests international law internet Inuit Iran Iraq Ireland Islam Israel Italy IVF Japan Judaism judicial review jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Bill Law Pod UK legal aid legality Leveson Inquiry LGBTQ Rights liability Libel Liberty Libya Lithuania local authorities marriage Maya Forstater mental capacity Mental Health military Ministry of Justice modern slavery music Muslim nationality national security NHS Northern Ireland nuclear challenges Obituary ouster clauses parental rights parliamentary expenses scandal patents Pensions Personal Injury Piracy Plagiarism planning Poland Police Politics pollution press Prisoners Prisons privacy Professional Discipline Property proportionality Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest Public/Private public access public authorities public inquiries public law rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion RightsInfo Right to assembly right to die right to family life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania Round Up Royals Russia Saudi Arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice sexual offence sexual orientation Sikhism Smoking social media South Africa Spain special advocates Sports Standing statelessness stop and search Strasbourg Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance Syria Tax technology Terrorism tort Torture travel treaty TTIP Turkey UK Ukraine UK Supreme Court unduly harsh USA US Supreme Court vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wind farms WomenInLaw YearInReview Zimbabwe
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