Legislative Scrutiny: Coroners and Justice Bill - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Supplementary memorandum submitted by Inquest

  Inquest has made both its substantive briefing on the Coroners and Justice Bill and its stand alone briefing on "secret" inquests (clauses 11-13) available to the Committee and indeed we are encouraged that the Committee has sympathy with our views on many of the issues that arise in relation to compatibility with ECHR. In relation to the issues outlined by the committee in the call for submissions and the letter to the Justice Secretary we make the follow additional comments.


  In addition to our comments in our briefings we have forwarded to the committee the directions of the Coroner in the Terry Nicholas case, one of the cases cited by the government as giving rise to clauses 11—13. The coroner clearly sets out her view that the inquest into his death can go ahead and be article 2 compliant within the constraints of the current legislative framework. This means as far as we are aware there is only one case, that of Azelle Rodney, on which the government is basing these highly contentious proposals. We reiterate our view that these clauses should be withdrawn and a simple amendment made to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.


  Inquest does not believe that the proposed scope of coroners' investigations is adequate to meet the positive obligations of the State to protect lives. Despite recent legal changes inquests still cannot fully explore all the issues of procedure and policy that may have contributed to a death. For example in 2004 the JCHR were aware of the death of 16 year old Joseph Scholes in Stoke Heath young offender institution and supported the call for a public inquiry. Like the coroner who presided over the inquest, they recognised the limitations of the inquest remit which meant important issues of the sentencing and allocation of Joseph, a vulnerable 16 year old boy were not able to be considered. Most recently INQUEST is working on the self inflicted deaths in prison of 15 year old Liam McManus found hanging in Lancaster Farms Young Offender Institution after being sentenced to one month 14 days and a young woman Alison Colk found hanging in Styal prison, sentenced to 28 days. In order to fully scrutinise and understand the issues that contributed to these deaths and establish whether there was a breach of article 2 and how to protect lives in the future it is crucial that there is a detailed examination of sentencing policy and allocation. Within the proposed new system there is no ability to do this.

  Deaths will continue to be considered in isolation from one another without an overview of the systemic factors which may have contributed to a pattern of similar deaths. The findings of previous inquests or inquiries into deaths involving similar factors or deaths within the same institution may also not be considered.


  Inquest's view is that there needs to be a new approach to the funding of families legal representation. The current means tested legal aid system is unfair and potentially prevents families from ensuring they can effectively participate in coroners investigations. There should be automatic non means tested funding available for families in all inquests that engage article 2. The State is always represented and lawyers paid for from unlimited public funds while families face complex, intrusive and additionally distressing means testing.

  In the public bill committee "The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice) said : We estimate that about 800 inquests a year involve public authorities. They cost an average of about £8,000 for legal aid, which amounts to £6.4 million a year".

March 2009

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