When is an inquest not an inquest?

This question was recently addressed in the case of Flower v HM Coroner for the County of Devon, Plymouth, Torbay and South Devon & Anor, Court of Appeal - Administrative Court, December 16, 2015, [2015] EWHC 3666 (Admin). The case concerned an application under s.13 of the Coroners Act 1988 for a mandatory order to quash the original inquest findings into the death of Keith Dance and to order a fresh inquest. The deceased met his death in violent circumstances and two individuals were convicted of his murder. The Coroner had suspended his investigation into the death pending the outcome of criminal proceedings pursuant to section 11 and paragraph 2 of the schedule 1 to the 2009 Act, but following the convictions certified that the “investigation has not been resumed” as a consequence of the criminal convictions.

The mother of the deceased sought a new inquest pursuant to s.13, but to succeed she had to show that  “an inquest or an investigation has been held”. Following an extensive review of the authorities and competing views of the editors of Jervis on Coroners and Halsbury’s Laws of England, the Court concluded that in fact no inquest had ever been held. It was clear that the inquest had never been discontinued under section 4 of the 2009 Act but had merely been suspended under schedule 1; effectively adjourning the inquest “sine die”. The Court condensed the arguments into one simple (and rather obvious) phrase;

“for an investigation to have been held it has to have been completed; a part investigation is no more than an investigation that has been “held” than a part inquest has been “held”".

On the basis of this finding the Court declined to make any finding pursuant to the s.13 application, but invited the applicant to approach the Coroner and invite him to re-consider his decision not to resume the original inquest. The Court did not want to tread on the Coroner’s toes and expressed no opinion as to what decision he should make, but suggested that the correct avenue for appealing against a future decision not to re-open proceedings would be by way of Judicial Review.

Stephen Mooney

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