High Court quashes inquest verdict following Coroner's unlawful jury directions

Monday 25 July 2016

A bereaved mother has successfully challenged a jury’s conclusion at the inquest into the death of her son, who was discovered hanging whilst at HMP Elmley on 10 January 2013, due to the Coroner’s inadequate and misleading summing up.

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Sean Jackson was a vulnerable prisoner with a history of mental health problems and self-harm. The inquest into his death investigated whether he ought to have been recognised as a risk of self-harm and therefore managed under the prison “ACCT” policy in the days leading up to his death, in particular after he had superficially cut his wrist just two days before. Following directions and summing up from Ian Wade QC, HM Assistant Coroner for Mid Kent and Medway, the jury found that an ACCT should not have been opened and made no critical findings.

The issue in the High Court was whether the Coroner materially misdirected the jury, as the claimants argued, in that his summing up was misleading, lacked the required clarity, and omitted key evidence.

Judge Thornton, the Chief Coroner, and Lord Justice Beatson held that the Coroner’s summing up was inadequate, thus the jury’s conclusion was unsafe and incompatible with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court ruled that Sean should have been managed under the ACCT, and rejected defendant’s position that the jury were lawfully directed or that any defects in the summing up were not material.

The judgment is an important decision for bereaved families as it reinforces the duty upon coroners to provide an inquest jury with an impartial, even-handed, accurate and adequate summary of the evidence.

The case was reported in the press, including The Daily Telegraph.

The family was represented by Ifeanyi Odogwu of the Administrative and Public Law Team and Civil Liberties and Human Rights Team at the inquest and throughout the judicial review proceedings. Hodge Jones & Allen LLP instructed Ifeanyi.

The full judgment can be read here.

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