Divisional Court gives guidance on when an inquest should be heard by a jury

08.12.15 | |

In R (Fullick) v HM Coroner for Inner London North [2015] EWHC 3522 (Admin) McCombe LJ & Chief Coroner, HHJ Thornton QC have granted an application for judicial review of the coroner’s decision to hold an inquest without a jury and ordered that the inquest should be held with a jury.

 

In February 2015, Susan Jones (claimant’s mother) then aged 47 years, made an allegation of a serious offence to police. She was vulnerable and described herself as an alcoholic; had high blood pressure; and was taking methadone. The police invited her to make a statement and she was taken to Hornsey police station where she gave a full account. She was not in custody or detention, having attended voluntarily as a potential witness. Whilst waiting for a specialist team, she appeared to be asleep but when snoring stopped she was checked and found not to be breathing.


The coroner decided to hold an inquest without a jury on the basis that there was no reason to suspect that the death resulted from the act or omission of a police officer in the purported exercise of his duty and so it was not mandatory to sit with a jury under s 7(2)(b) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.


The court acknowledged that the phrase 'reason to suspect' in s 7(2) of the Act was not defined in the Act, but was well known to the common law. It did not require positive proof or even formulated evidence. The test has a low threshold and is objective in its nature. Any information giving reason to suspect would suffice.


The court concluded there had been sufficient material before the coroner such that the mandatory provisions of s 7(2)(b) of the Act applied. There was reason to suspect that the death had resulted from a police officer's omission in the purported exercise of the officer's duty. The deceased might not have been a detainee in custody at the police station, but she had been a vulnerable visitor, as the police had known. At the very least, she had needed looking after. Accordingly, the mandatory requirement for a jury inquest had been satisfied and the coroner had erred in law in concluding the contrary.


The court went on to give guidance as to the correct approach to the exercise of the discretion to call a jury under s7(3).


The Claimant was represented by Sam Jacobs of Doughty Street Chambers, and Nogah Ofer of Bhatt Murphy solicitors.

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