The Queen (on the application of Sharon Grice): a summary to save you reading time!
On Christmas Eve, Mr Justice Garnham handed down his judgment in the above case.
Judicial review proceedings were brought on behalf of the family of Sharon Grice.
Sharon Grice was killed on 25 August 2016 by her ex-boyfriend Michael Lane. The murder followed a number of months in which Ms Grice and others made reports to the police regarding Mr Lane’s behaviour. He stalked her, he stole a key to her flat and let himself into her bedroom at 6am, and he made silent withheld calls to her phone. The reports were largely ignored by Sussex police, and even resulted on one occasion with Ms Grice being given a fixed penalty notice for wasting police time, as she had not been honest with the police that she had been in a relationship with Michael Lane. Essentially, he was treated as the victim, and she a liar, prone to “blowing things out of proportion”.
On 22 March 2017 Michael Lane was convicted of murder and sentenced by Green J to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 25 years.
In sentencing Mr Lane, Green J took the somewhat unusual course of remarking on his concerns about police conduct and directing that they be brought to the attention of the Independent Police Complaints Commission . Specifically, he commented on the ways in which the police had treated Ms Grice during the course of the investigation, and the impact of their lack of appreciation “that a young woman in a sexual relationship with a man could at one and the same time be vulnerable and at risk of serious harm”.
Following the criminal trial a number of further investigations took place :
(i) a statutory Domestic Homicide Review of the case (September 2017);
(ii) an investigation into the case by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (June 2018);
(iii) an inspection by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services concerning Sussex Police and its response to cases of stalking and harassment (April 2019);
(iv) police disciplinary proceedings, which concluded in July 2019 with findings of gross misconduct against one officer and misconduct against two others.
The Senior Coroner of Brighton and Hove was written to by solicitors for the family on 4 March 2019 and again on 11 June 2019, inviting her to resume the inquest into the death of Sharon Grice (see Section 11 and Schedule 1 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 for when an inquest must be suspended, and when it should be resumed). Having obtained the relevant reports, on 3 January 2020 the Coroner gave her judgment declining to do so.
The JR proceedings
The central issue for Mr Justice Garnham’s determination was whether the Coroner was right to hold that the criminal trial and the other investigations were sufficient to comply with the State’s investigative obligation under Article 2.
The family argued that the investigations to date were inadequate because they were not sufficiently independent, were ineffective, provided insufficient scrutiny and permitted insufficient involvement of Ms. Grice’s family.
The family’s appeal was dismissed.
Relevant legal points
It was common ground in this case that Article 2 was engaged. Mr Justice Garnham is clear that the requirements of an Article 2 investigation will vary, however there are minimum standards which must be met.
The minimum requirements are set out in Jordan v United Kingdom (2001) E.H.R.R. 52 at  – , and quoted by Mr Justice Garnham at para 61:
a) the authorities must act of their own motion;
b) the investigation must be independent;
c) the investigation must be effective in the sense that it must be conducted in a manner that does not undermine its ability to establish the relevant facts; this is, as it was described in Jordan “an obligation of means rather than results”;
d) the investigation must be reasonably prompt;
e) there must be a ‘‘sufficient element of public scrutiny of the investigation or its results to secure accountability in practice as well as in theory; the degree of public scrutiny required may well vary from case to case’’: and
f) there must be involvement of the next of kin ‘‘to the extent necessary to safeguard his or her legitimate interests’’
However, “even the minimum requirements involve a degree of flexibility”; Goodson v HM Coroner for Bedfordshire  EWHC Admin 2931 .
At para 84 Mr Justice Garnham remarks: “it is important also to record what is not required”. He identifies the following features:
“(i) It is not a requirement of the ECHR that any particular procedure be adopted to fulfil the Jordan requirements. The form of the investigation may vary according to the circumstances and those requirements can be satisfied by a set of separate investigations, rather than by a single, unified procedure.
(ii) The requirement for the family of the deceased to be involved in an investigation to the extent necessary to safeguard their interests does not mean that the investigating authorities must satisfy every request for a particular step to be taken in the investigation.
(iii) The requirement of public scrutiny does not invariably require a public hearing, and neither requirement means that the family of the deceased must be able directly to test evidence.
Crucially, at para 85 it is clear that “there is no requirement that each element of the State’s investigative procedure meets each one of those tests; the question is whether, viewed in its totality, the investigations meet the minimum requirements identified in Jordan.”
In Ms Grice’s case, Mr Justice Garnham carefully considered each of the investigative procedures and the criticisms made of them. He found that taken together, the Coroner had correctly assessed the various investigations as having discharged the State’s Article 2 duty, meaning that the resumption of the inquest was unnecessary.
The reasoning leading to Mr Justice Garnham’s decision does not involve any novel points of law. However, it reminds us of settled principles: notwithstanding Article 2 being engaged, an Article 2 inquest will only be permitted where it is necessary to discharge the State’s obligations. That ‘necessity’ test is built into the wording of section 5(2), and is an important prerequisite for an Article 2 inquest. Proper consideration of the wider context is fundamentally important, and it is clear that the investigations undertaken to date should be weighed cumulatively when considering that test.