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Legal case

An inquest remains an inquisitorial and relatively summary process. It is not a surrogate public inquiry

Court of Appeal upholds West London Coroner decision

The decision of the West London Coroner (23 September 2019) not to hold a Middleton inquest (an inquest under article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights,) following the death of a voluntary in-patient of a psychiatric rehabilitation unit due to an overdose of recreational drugs when she was at home in the community has been upheld in a judgement of the Court of Appeal dated 28 October 2022.

The hearing of the appeal by the family of Tanya Morahan (cousin) against the decision of the Divisional Court (Popplewell LJ, Garnham J and HHJ Teague KC, Chief Coroner) which upheld the coroner’s decision: [2021] EWHC 1603 (Admin), took place before The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Justice Baker and  Lady Justice Nicola Davies on 6 and 7 July 2022.

In the judgement handed down remotely, Lord Burnett of Maldon CJ refers to "the impressive and comprehensive judgment of the Divisional Court“ and finds no authority for the proposition that an article 2 operational duty is owed to voluntary psychiatric patients to protect them from all risks of death. A distinction is made between this case where the risk of death is accidental death from the recreational use of drugs of a voluntary patient who was genuinely at liberty to come and go and  the circumstances in ’Rabone’ “where the very purpose of being in hospital was to protect against the risk of suicide.” No automatic investigative obligation arises in these circumstances.

In dismissing the appeal the judgement concludes that “The coroner was right to conclude that Ms Morahan’s circumstances did not give rise to an operational duty under article 2 of the Convention upon the Trust to protect her from the risk of accidental death from the use of recreational drugs.”

It was acknowledged that the legal representative for the appellant had been candid about the availability of legal aid for inquests proceeding under article 2 being the underlying reason for frequently raised and hard fought submissions about the procedural obligation imposed by the ECHR. It was also noted that this approach may lead to undesirable delays and also judicial review proceedings as in this case.

The family now have a limited period to make a decision regarding an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Read the full judgment ([2022] EWCA Civ 1410).

Read the R (Middleton) v. West Somerset Coroner report.

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