Reset for inquest conclusions

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court has determined that all forms of conclusion in the coroner’s court – narrative or short form – are to be assessed on the civil standard – that is on the balance of probabilities. Expanding the previous Court of Appeal decision regarding conclusions of suicide – unlawful killing can now be recorded where all of the elements of the offences of murder, manslaughter or infanticide are ‘probably’ made out when previously the court had to be ‘sure’.

This decision may come as a surprise to many readers as it did to us – see our earlier blog here where we had our money on the Supreme Court agreeing with the Court of Appeal with the possibility of it giving further clarity of the standard of proof to applied in unlawful killing.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Maughan v HM Senior Coroner for Oxfordshire now resolves any ambiguity regarding the differing standards of proof relating to different inquest conclusions. In the leading judgment Lady Arden decided that:

  • there was no cogent reason for not applying the principle that in ‘civil proceedings’ the civil standard should apply;
  • applying the criminal standard may lead to suicides being under-recorded and lessons not being learnt;
  • a revised standard of proof is more in-keeping with changing societal expectations and the changing role of inquests; and
  • the change brings us into line with other commonwealth jurisdictions.

Applying the civil standard rather than the criminal standard in this way will elevate the stakes at many inquests.

Clearly there are a number of ramifications and implications to explore for inquest stakeholders which we plan to do in a forthcoming webinar – click here to express your interest in attending our webinar.

Do get in touch with me or our wider inquest team if you would like to discuss any of the issues raised here or would like support on an inquest.

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