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Challenging a Coroner's Decision

Inquest Representation

During his investigation into a death the coroner will make many decisions. These will range from whether to discontinue an investigation after post mortem through to what evidence he determines is relevant to consider at a full inquest. When reaching those decisions, the coroner must bear in mind any legal restrictions imposed on him by statute, the Coroners (Investigations) Regulations 2013 and the Coroners (Inquests) Rules 2013 and reported case law. The Chief Coroner’s Guidance gives coroner’s assistance in many areas, for example, Guidance 15 Dealing with the possibility of apparent bias, Guidance 16A Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) -3rd April 2017 onwards, Guidance No 22: Pre-Inquest Review Hearings, No 17 Conclusions: Short-form and Narrative. In many instances the coroner will exercise his discretion when he makes a decision. An interested person may wish to challenge a coroner’s decision either because they feel he has acted unlawfully or because they are unhappy with the outcome of an inquest. Perhaps because the coroner refused to consider certain evidence or a concern that did not carry out full enough enquiries. There is no statutory right of appeal. There are only two means to try and challenge a coroner’s decision, judicial review or an application under Section 13 Coroners Act 1988 for an Attorney General’s Fiat. The procedures, legal criteria and timescales are different. If the remedy sought in either jurisdiction is an order for a new inquest the test to be applied in the High Court is the same “whether it is necessary or desirable in the interests of justice that another inquest should be held.” 

Broadly a judicial review can be brought to challenge the decision-making processes of the coroner on the grounds of illegality, irrationality and procedural impropriety or unfairness. It is a two- stage process where permission to bring a judicial review must be granted first. The application for permission must be filed promptly and in any event within 3 months from the date when grounds for the application first arose. If permission is granted the remedies available at a final judicial review hearing are, a quashing order, a mandatory order (the coroner must act in a particular way), a prohibiting order (prevents the coroner from acting unlawfully) a declaration, an injunction and in rare cases claims for damages under the Human Rights Act 1988. A recent example of a successful judicial review was R(1) Adath Yisroel Burial Society (2) Ita Cymerman v HM Senior Coroner for Inner North London (Defendant) & Chief Coroner of England and Wales (interested Party)  [2018] EWHC 969 (Admin).  It related to delays caused in the release of bodies to Jewish and Muslim families due to a policy the coroner had adopted.. 

There is no time limit for seeking an Attorney General’s fiat under S13 of the 1988 Act. S13 defines when a challenge related to inquest proceedings may be brought:

  1. The coroner refused or neglected to hold an inquest which ought to be held;
  2. An inquest or investigation has been held that (whether by reason of fraud, rejection of evidence, irregularity of proceedings, insufficiency of enquiry, the discovery of new facts, evidence or otherwise) it is necessary or desirable in the interests of justice that an investigation (or another investigation should be held.

It is also a two-stage process.  First the complaint must be considered by the Attorney-General’s office. If authority is granted for the case to proceed a fiat is granted for the case to be determined by the High Court. Only if the necessary or desirable test is satisfied will the High Court order a fresh inquest. Recent high-profile cases where a second inquest was ordered were Hillsborough and the case of Private Sean Benton. Our lawyers are experienced in reviewing cases to advise on the merits of bringing a S13 case. If the issues of concern have not been raised with the coroner in correspondence, our lawyers can advise and/or draft an appropriate letter. This can persuade a coroner to change his previous position and avoid the need for formal legal proceedings. If the coroner stands by his previous decisions it will be necessary to draft a S.13 application that must set out in full the grounds and reasons why the Attorney-General should grant a fiat. There is an overlap between some of the grounds for seeking judicial review and some of the S13 grounds, for example irregularity of proceedings. This means if the maximum 3-month time limit for bringing a case for permission to seek judicial review was missed it may still be possible to bring a S13 claim.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of an inquest case in confidence and without obligation, please call Alexander Chambers on 0845 652 0451 and ask to speak to one of our inquest lawyers. Our lawyers have represented many clients in inquest proceedings and are able to advise on evidence, expert witnesses, statements, and submissions, and represent clients at inquest hearings.

Other Articles on Inquests:

Representation at Inquests
Coroner Investigations and Inquests
Inquest Conclusions ('Verdicts') and Evidence
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