Under the new Coroners and Justice Act, the circumstances in which a Coroner is obliged to call a jury to hear evidence at an Inquest are more limited than they were prior to the introduction of the Act.
Only a Senior Coroner is able to make the decision to empanel a jury.
The circumstances which will require a jury to be called include the following:
- When the deceased has died in custody and a Senior Coroner has reason to suspect the death was a “violent” or “unnatural” one, or the cause of the death is unknown.
- When the deceased death is caused by a “notifiable accident, poisoning or disease” and should be reported to the Health and Safety Executive. Such “notifiable” accidents include deaths caused by an accident in the workplace or a death in a healthcare setting where a patient has committed suicide or has been killed by another patient.
- If the death occurred in circumstances that continuance of which are prejudicial to the health and safety of the public.
The decision as to whether any of the above circumstances apply to a particular death is open to a degree of interpretation by a Senior Coroner, particularly as to whether a death has occurred in circumstances which are “prejudicial to the health and safety of the public”. The views of a family should always been taken into account by a Senior Coroner when he or she is exercising the discretion to call a jury.
The Act also confers a right on a Senior Coroner to summon a jury simply if he or she feels “there is sufficient reason for doing so”, such circumstances may include, for instance, if there is evidence of some fault or omission on behalf of a state agent and there is a particular need for a high level of public scrutiny of the Inquest proceedings.
For more information please contact Suzanne White on 020 7650 1200 at Leigh Day for information and support about inquests.