Family wins High Court challenge following inquest into prison death where jury were not properly directed as to their conclusions

Friday 14 January 2022

Stephen Simblet QC and Sarah Hemingway, of the Garden Court Chambers Inquests & Inquiries Team, were instructed by Bhaskar Banerjee of GT Stewart solicitors. 

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Stephen Simblet QC and Sarah Hemingway represented the sister of a man who took his own life about three weeks after entering Pentonville prison in November 2018. They argued that the Senior Coroner of Inner North London had not adequately directed the jury in terms of their task in forming conclusions about the probable causes of death. The jury returned an anodyne conclusion that failed to address the key issues at the heart of the inquest.

The High Court Judge, Mrs Justice Steyn DBE, agreed with the family that there is a need for a coroner to elicit the jury’s conclusions on the central factual issues at the inquest, in order to comply with the procedural requirements of Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights (Right to Life).

Steyn J found that the submissions made by Sarah Hemingway at the inquest, were correct:

‘that in order for it to be an article 2 compliant conclusion, it should at least address “those central issues that have been explored within the course of the inquest, provided that they find, on the balance of probabilities, that the issues were more than minimally contributive”.’

The case recognises that the role of juries in inquests is complex and it is imperative that they are given clear direction as to how they should form their conclusion and complete the Record of Inquest. This follows the Supreme court case of Maughan, where Lady Arden JSC observed that the “coroner will determine which facts are at the centre of the case”.

In the High Court, Stephen Simblet QC submitted that in the absence of clear directions to the jury, the only reasonable remedy is a fresh inquest, stating:

“an inquest is the primary way of complying with the article 2 investigatory obligation. In terms of public accountability, it would not be satisfactory to have to draw together, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, parts of the transcript of the inquest, the record of inquest, the Prevention of Future Deaths report, the PPO report and this court’s judgment, in order to ascertain the conclusions.”

The original inquest has therefore been quashed and a new inquest ordered.

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