Inquests


Litvinenko – When real life is more fantastic than fiction

25 January 2016 by

LitvinenkoNeil Garnham QC (now Mr Justice Garnham) and Robert Wastell of 1COR acted for the Secretary of State for the Home Department at the Litvinenko Inquiry. David Evans QC and Alasdair Henderson acted for AWE Plc. None was involved in preparing this post.

The publication on Thursday of the long awaited report by Sir Robert Owen into the circumstances of the death of Alexander Litivenko from polonium poisoning on 23 November 2006 has (unsurprisingly) resulted in bitter criticism by the Russian Government of the Inquiry’s conclusions that the poisoning was probably directed by the Russian Federal Security Service, and probably approved by President Putin. The report is long (246 pages not including Appendices), but in page after page of readable and measured prose Sir Robert Owen tells the extraordinary story of Alexander Litvinenko’s death and the subsequent 9 year investigation into it.
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Intensive care, and the outer limits of Cheshire West

6 November 2015 by

Int careThe Queen (on the application of LF) v HM Senior Coroner for Inner South London [2015] EWHC 2990 (Admin)

Where a coroner has reason to suspect that a person has died in custody or “otherwise in state detention” and that the death was violent, unnatural or by way of unknown cause, the coroner must hold an inquest with a jury (section 7 Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (“CJA”)). The interesting issue in this case was whether and/or in what circumstances a person who has died whilst in intensive care will be regarded as having died “in state detention”, thus triggering a jury inquest.
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The Long Shadow of the Troubles

7 July 2015 by

Photo: The Guardian

Photo: The Guardian

In Finucane’s (Geraldine) Application [2015] NIQB 57 the Northern Ireland High Court  dismissed a challenge to the decision by the British Government to carry out a ‘review’ by Sir Desmond Da Silva rather than a public inquiry into the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane on 12 February 1989.

Mr Finucane, a Belfast solicitor who had represented a number of high profile IRA and INLA members including Bobby Sands, was murdered in front of his family by loyalist paramilitaries in one of the most notorious killings of the Troubles. His death was mired in controversy due to the collusion between the security forces and his killers. Mr Justice Stephens stated at the outset of his judgment that

It is hard to express in forceful enough terms the appropriate response to the murder, the collusion associated with it, the failure to prevent the murder and the obstruction of some of the investigations into it. Individually and collectively they were abominations which amounted to the most conspicuously bad, glaring and flagrant breach of the obligation of the state to protect the life of its citizen and to ensure the rule of law. There is and can be no attempt at justification.

 

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How not to get a pre-inquest review wrong

25 February 2014 by

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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In South Africa, the not-so-quick and the dead.

13 November 2013 by

4208618041

 

There’s a crisis in South Africa’s mortuaries – in the investigation of death.

 This is due to a number of problems – incompetent staff who fail to gather forensic evidence, creaking and inadequate facilities, and the sheer number of dead bodies waiting to be processed. In a gripping but bleak documentary about Salt River Mortuary, which is responsible for processing cadavers in the Western Cape, the figures will make you gasp and stretch your eyes:

For the Western Cape alone, 3,000 bodies are handled by this Mortuary each year. Of this number, 65% are unnatural deaths (accidents, suicides, homicides). Of that number (approx 2,000) a staggering 80% are homicides – in other words, Salt River is responsible for providing the forensic evidence for reconstructing the crime scenes leading to 1,600 murders a year.

Watch the ten minute film here.
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No article 2 inquest over 14-year-old overdose death, despite failings

14 November 2012 by

Methadone

Kent County Council, R (on the application of) v HM Coroner for the County of Kent (North-West District) & Ors [2012] EWHC 2768 (Admin) – read judgment

The High Court – including the new Chief Coroner – has held that the enhanced investigative duty under Article 2, the right to life, is not engaged in an inquest into the death of a 14 year old boy, despite “many missed opportunities” for intervention by social services being identified.  

Another sad case on when and how the enhanced investigative duty under Article 2 ECHR is engaged. EB, a troubled 14 year old, died of a methadone overdose in November 2009.  He was known to the claimant’s social services department, who were the subject of criticism in a serious case review following his death.  The review found that there had been “many missed opportunities” to intervene, but felt that:  “It cannot be concluded that a different approach … would have prevented [EB]’s death, but there is a possibility that there may have been a different outcome.”  The council have since apologised unreservedly to the family.

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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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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.

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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