Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED November 21, 2003

An application for judicial review claim in relation to a coroner's inquest and an ancillary application for a fresh inquest were both dismissed where the inquest had been properly conducted and it was neither necessary or desirable in the interests of justice for a new inquest to take place.Application for judicial review of the decision of a coroner's inquest returning a verdict of accidental death and an application under s.13 Coroners Act 1988 for a fresh inquest. On 1 February 2001 at about 2pm the deceased ('B') had visited an electrical goods store where he had previously been suspected of theft. Shortly afterwards the manager confronted B on a nearby street and a scuffle broke out, following which B fell and struck his head. Police and an ambulance were then called. At about 2.45pm B was examined and found to be conscious, alert and breathing normally. He declined to go to hospital and was conveyed to a police station on suspicion of theft. The custody officer decided B needed urgent medical attention and he was transported to hospital by police van. The hospital began treatment of B at 4.10pm but he died later the same day. The inquest into B's death started on 20 November with an assured time estimate of two-and-a-half days. On 23 November the deputy coroner refused an application for an adjournment, sought in part to allow further medical evidence to be obtained. The jury subsequently returned a verdict of accidental death. Five matters fell to be considered by the court in relation to the inquest: (i) the reading of statements from three unavailable witnesses pursuant to r.37 Coroners Rules 1984 SI 1984/552; (ii) the restriction placed on the cross-examination of police officers; (iii) the alleged unexplained time gap between B leaving the police station and receiving hospital treatment; (iv) the refusal to adjourn; and (v) the impact of two reports by medical consultants obtained after the jury's verdict that differed in opinion from the medical evidence given at the inquest.HELD: (1) The coroner had dealt properly and fully with each problem as it had arisen at the inquest, with no more than a proper regard to such matters as availability of individuals, court rooms and the space in the list. (2) The witness statements which were read had been properly admitted under r.37(1) of the Rules. There was no reason to think that the witnesses' evidence was likely to be disputed and no objection was raised until after the statements had been admitted. (3) The restriction placed on the cross-examination of police officers was plainly right as it had restricted questioning to relevant matters only. (4) So far as the alleged time gap was concerned, the relevant witnesses were produced to deal with the time period between 3pm and 4.33pm. When their evidence was analysed there was no large time gap to be explained. (5) On the material before the coroner it was clear beyond argument that he was correct to refuse an adjournment. The court and the coroner were not available for the following week and there was no reason to think that the interests of justice would be best served by discharging the jury and starting again twelve months later. (6) It followed that the application for judicial review had to be dismissed. (7) The question of whether the impact of the fresh medical evidence was such that there should be another inquest required consideration of the likelihood of a different verdict being reached. The fresh evidence was built upon an unrealistic foundation and it was not necessary or desirable in the interests of justice that another inquest should be held. B had decided not to go to hospital. There was no obvious reason to try to persuade him to do so and therefore it was irrelevant to consider what would have happened had he gone straight there. There was no basis for a finding of gross negligence in the system. Accordingly the application for relief under s.13 of the Act also had to be dismissed.Judgment accordingly.

[2003] EWHC 2612 (Admin)