Supreme Court lowers standard of proof for unlawful killing and suicide inquest conclusions to balance of probabilities

In a judgment handed down today in the case of R (Maughan) v. HM Senior Coroner for Oxfordshire [2020] UKSC 46, the Supreme Court has decided that the standard of proof for all conclusions at an inquest, including unlawful killing and suicide, is the balance of probabilities. 

Until now, the standard of proof for unlawful killing has been the criminal standard – beyond reasonable doubt. Today’s judgment means that for all conclusions at an inquest, the standard is the same. The coroner or jury may record a conclusion (including unlawful killing) if they are satisfied that it is more likely than not that it occurred. 


James Maughan died by hanging in his prison cell at HMP Bullingdon on July 11, 2016. The coroner at the inquest into his death directed the jury to reach a narrative conclusion, applying the civil standard of proof, which is the balance of probabilities. They were asked to determine whether Mr Maughan deliberately placed a ligature around his neck and suspend himself, intending the outcome to be fatal.  Those are the questions to be answered in respect of a short-form suicide conclusion. However, the coroner held that the jury could not leave suicide as a short-form conclusion, because the standard of proof was criminal (beyond reasonable doubt), and they could not properly find it was satisfied. 

Mr Maughan’s brother brought a claim for judicial review to challenge the direction and jury’s conclusion. He argued that the standard of proof for a suicide conclusion is the criminal standard, whether it is expressed as a short-form or narrative conclusion. The Divisional Court decided in July 2018 to lower the standard of proof for suicide, so that it is the civil standard.  

INQUEST intervened in the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. They argued that, if the standard of proof for suicide is the lower standard, then the standard for unlawful killing should also be the lower standard. 

The Supreme Court today confirmed the Divisional Court’s conclusion as to the standard for suicide. It also accepted INQUEST’s submission and decided that the standard of proof for unlawful killing is the lower civil standard. 

Mr Maughan was represented by Karon Monaghan QC, of Matrix Chambers, and Jude Bunting, of Doughty Street Chambers, instructed by Najma Rasul of Matthew Gold Solicitors

INQUEST were represented by Adam Straw of Doughty Street Chambers, instructed by Helen Stone of Hickman & Rose Solicitors.

There will be a short remote seminar to discuss the finding and its implications on Friday 20th November at 9.30am, hosted by Doughty Street Chambers, chaired by Deborah Coles from INQUEST, with Adam Straw and Helen Stone discussing unlawful killing, and Jude Bunting discussing suicide.

The joining details are:

Zoom Link 

Webinar ID: 936 0514 4438

Passcode: 470769

The full judgment is available here. The media release from the Maughan family representatives at Matthew Gold is available here.