Inquests News

2020

In January 2020 a judge of the high court held that a coroner should have left the issue of ‘neglect’ to the jury considering the verdict. The law report gives guidance on when neglect matters might be left to a jury. R (on the application of LEWIS) v SENIOR CORONER FOR NORTH WEST KENT [2020] 2 WLUK 180

The Covid-19 Pandemic The Coronavirus Act 2020 was passed on 25 March 2020. On 26 and 27 March 2020 the Chief Coroner issued Guidance 34,35, and 36 on Covid-19 issues as they affect England and Wales.

The points of interest drawn from the Act and Guidance that have a practical impact on the coroner’s work are listed below.

  • Covid-19 as a cause of death (or a contributory cause) is not a reason on its own to refer a death to a coroner under the CJA 2009.
  • Although Covid-19 is a notifiable cause of death it does not mean referral to a coroner is required, often there will be no reason for a Covid-19 death to be referred to a coroner.
  • For registration of a death: If the next of kin or informant are self-isolating there can be arrangements for an alternative informant who has not been in contact with the deceased to collect the medical certificate of cause of death (MCCD) and deliver it to the registrar for registration purposes. [S18 and Schedule 13(3) of the Coronavirus Act 2020 allows this to be done by telephone or electronically.]
  • Covid-19 is a naturally occurring disease so can be a natural cause of death. Sometimes there may be other factors where the death could be considered unnatural. If so, the death will require referral to a coroner.
  • Every death in the community does not by law require referral to a coroner and should be dealt with by the medical certificate of cause of death process (MCCD).
  • For deaths in the community Schedule 13 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 extends the MCCD “window” to 28 days to allow a doctor who was not the attending doctor to sign the MCCD.

Guidance 34 sets out the options a coroner will need to consider when a possible Cov-19 related death is reported to them: whether to hold an investigation, whether it can be closed, whether to hold a R23 inquest or whether a  full investigation and inquest will be required.  The Chief Coroner has highlighted the need for sufficiency of inquiry to be maintained as much as possible with prison deaths.

The coroner will not be required to sit with a jury for a Covid-19 case (S30(1) Coronavirus Act 2020.)

Whilst other parties may be able to attend a hearing via telephone or other link the coroner must be present in court for all hearings.

2019

February 2019 The Ministry of Justice published the Final Report: Review of Legal Aid for Inquests.

Non-means tested legal aid will not be available to families in inquests where the state is legally represented. It is proposed there should be a new Guide to Coroner’s Services, a range of simple leaflets for families, and better signposting to support services. All coroners and coroner’s officers will undergo compulsory training in 2019/2020. There will be a review of training for lawyers who conduct inquests to help keep inquests inquisitorial not adversarial.

The Court of Appeal confirmed that in suicide cases the standard of proof for short form and narrative conclusions was the  civil balance of probabilities not the criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt.  R (Maughan) v HM Senior Coroner for Oxfordshire v The Chief Coroner for England Wales [2019] EWCA civ 809 (see case summaries.)

A medical case (in which medical treatment may incur liability in tort) will not generally engage Article 2.  R (Maguire) v HM Senior Coroner for Blackpool and Flyde & United Response and ORS [2019] EWHC 1232 (Admin) (see case summaries.) This decision upheld Parkinson from 2018. [2018] EWHC 1501 (admin.)

2018

“Hillsborough Law” – Should families in inquests be able to obtain legal aid? Government Consultation (August 2018)