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May 17, 2016

The Hillsborough Inquests

On 26 April 2016, the jury returned their verdict of unlawful killing in respect of each of the 96 persons who had died at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989. This brought to a close the longest running inquest in legal history. The inquests sat from 31 March 2014 until their conclusion last month following the High Court ruling in December 2012, quashing the verdicts from the original inquests and ordering fresh hearings.

Whether the inquests will have a significant impact on coronial law or procedure remains to be seen. Perhaps three areas are highlighted by the process:

  • Firstly, the value of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act of 1998. It is perhaps hard to think of a better illustration of the ability of an Article 2 Middleton inquest to investigate the actions of a number of institutions.
  • The ability of jurors to follow and understand complex and detailed evidence and then to apply that evidence to the questions asked of them. There is no better person than a citizen of this country, chosen at random, to analyse the actions of those in authority.
  • The need for families to be able to obtain public funding so as to be represented at an inquest where the actions of the state are in issue and have equality of arms. The families in these inquests noted that one of the main differences between these inquests and the original ones is that in these they were properly represented.  


Some of the lawyers acting for the families have called for a review/change of the law which would have enabled previous admissions/apologies made by the South Yorkshire Police and the South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service, to be admitted into evidence at the inquests. Goldring LJ ruled on this particular issue on 31 October 2014 and made cogent argument as to why it would not be fair to admit such evidence – this being a fresh inquiry and those opinions being made by persons who had not been present at the disaster and being based on the evidence presented to them at the time. It may be that this area of the inquest will result in a consideration of what previous findings could be admissible before the coroner.

The transcripts of each day of the proceedings, the evidence, the legal rulings and the questionnaires returned by the jurors are all available at https://hillsboroughinquests.independent.gov.uk

Fiona Elder