Chief Coroner Guidance

Read our brief notes on new guidance from the chief coroner in four different areas.

No. 27 – Jury irregularities

On 8 February 2018, the Chief Coroner issued new Guidance on the issue of jury irregularities. Intended to be a practical guide to assist coroners on the recommended process and procedures for dealing with any form of jury irregularity. It is designed to be used in conjunction with the June 2015 Coroner Bench Book.

A jury irregularity is anything which may prevent a juror from remaining faithful to their oath or affirmation to “diligently inquire into the death of [the deceased] and make findings of fact and come to a true conclusion according to the evidence.”

The guidance notes that coroners should give warnings to each jury at the start of every inquest and covers the detail of those warnings. It goes on to cover the various forms which juror irregularities might take and sets out the steps to be followed by the coroner when they become aware of a jury irregularity during the inquest or deliberations.

Next, the guidance deals with the subsequent conduct of the inquest in the event of a jury irregularity, how contempt proceedings may be instigated and concludes with advice on dealing with a jury irregularity after an inquest has concluded.

The complete Guidance No. 27 on jury irregularities is available here.

No. 28 – Report of death to the coroner: decision-making and expedited decisions

On 17 May 2018, the Chief Coroner issued new Guidance on these issues following the judgment of the Administrative Court in R (Adath Yisroel Burial Society) v Senior Coroner for Inner North London [2018] EWHC 969 (Admin) (“the AYBS case”).

The guidance reminds coroners of their duties involving deaths requiring urgent consideration and states that proper respect is to be given to representations based on religious belief. The judgment in the AYBS case found that the ‘cab rank’ approach previously adopted by the Inner North London coroner was wrong in law.

The judicial review arose on the application of Adath Yisroel Burial Society (“AYBS”), a Jewish funeral organiser following an incident involving the family of an Orthodox Jewish man who died in October 2017 and what AYBS referred to an ‘unnecessary bureaucratic delays’ in release of his body for burial.

The Guidance requires coroners to pay appropriate respect to the religious and cultural wishes of faith groups including whether a particular case should be treated as a matter of urgency based on religious reasons.

The complete Guidance No. 28 on decision-making and expedited decisions is available here.

No. 29 – Documentary inquests (also known as short form or Rule 23 inquests)

On 20 November 2018, the Chief Coroner issued new Guidance to assist coroners on documentary inquests with a view to achieving greater consistency of approach between senior, area and assistant coroners across England and Wales.

The Guidance begins by setting out the circumstances in which documentary inquests can arise. It moves on to consideration of the law, specifically Rule 3 of the Coroners (Inquests) Rules 2013 and its effects around the holding of a documentary inquest. Next, it considers the procedural steps which are to be taken before the inquest under Rule 23, including ‘best practice’ guidance which is recommended even though not required by Rule 23. It then moves on to consideration of the inquest hearing and concludes by looking at suicide notes and other documents or messages which were made by the deceased.

The Guidance includes detailed consideration and analysis of the important High Court decision in Simon Mueller v HM Area Coroner for Manchester West [2017] EWHC 3000.

The complete Guidance No. 29 on documentary inquests is available here.

No. 30 – Judge-led inquests

On 29 January 2019, the Chief Coroner issued new Guidance on this issue, which involves the discharge of the coroner’s duty to conduct an investigation and inquest and the transfer of the case to another jurisdiction or to a judge. Of particular significance is the coverage of inquests requiring consideration of security sensitive material, the first time that such guidance has been made public.

Beginning with coverage of the relevant legislation, the Guidance then looks at the subject of physical security of the public and/or members of staff during an inquest before moving on to issues around actual bias, the appearance of bias, conflicts of interest and coronial recusal, with references to the case law in these fields. Next, the Guidance looks at the two stage process around the disclosure of sensitive material to the coroner and then moves on to consider security sensitive and intelligence material which cannot be disclosed to the coroner.

After reviewing the issues around the nomination of a judge to sit as a coroner under Schedule 10 of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, the Guidance concludes with a look at the rare circumstances in which a judge is required to sit as a coroner and is therefore appointed as an assistant coroner under Schedule 3 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.

The complete Guidance No. 30 on judge-led inquests is available here.

For further information about Weightmans LLP or to discuss any of the issues in this update, please contact David Reddington, Employed Barrister on 020 7822 1925 or david.reddington@weightmans.com.

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