In the recent case of R (on the application of Medihani) v HM Coroner for Inner South District of Greater London, the issue of whether a Coroner should resume an inquest following criminal proceedings was considered. The facts of the case were tragic. The Deceased was a 15 year old girl who had been murdered by a man who had become obsessed with her. One month prior to her death, the Deceased had visited her local police station, together with members of her family, in order to report their concerns about the man in question and the threats he had made. The police failed to prevent the murder.
The Coroner had initially opened and adjourned the inquest pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings. However, before the trial, the murderer hung himself in his cell and suffered serious brain damage. The trial went ahead on the basis that he was unfit to plead. The jury concluded that the murder had been deliberate and the Deceased had been unlawfully killed. The Coroner relied on the outcome of the criminal trial in supporting her decision not to resume the inquest.
The Deceased’s mother complained to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (“IPCC”) who investigated the police’s actions. They found that the information provided by the Deceased and her family was not “sufficiently” acted upon. The Deceased’s mother used the IPCC report to try to persuade the Coroner to reconsider her decision. The Coroner again refused to resume the inquest.
The Deceased’s mother then brought judicial review proceedings in the High Court challenging the Coroner’s decision. The Court ruled that the Coroner’s decision not to resume the inquest was unlawful. The Court found that there had been “a sufficient cause” for resuming the inquest under Section 16(3) of the Coroners Act 1988. The Court found that there had arguably been a “real and immediate risk to life”, the police had arguably “failed to take measures which, judged reasonably, might have been expected to avoid that risk”, and there had not been a full investigation of the facts surrounding the Deceased’s death (the trial and the IPCC investigation focused on distinct issues of the case not the State’s obligation to the Deceased to protect her Article 2 rights, the right to life). The Coroner should have concluded that there was an arguable case that the police had acted in breach of an operational duty to protect the Deceased’s life pursuant to Article 2 and resumed the inquest. The inquest will now be resumed.