This is a question that was considered in the recently heard case of R v HM Coroner for Southampton and New Forest District of Hampshire which can be accessed here.
In this case, the court considered the right of a coroner to express opinions on matters not relating to the circumstances in which a deceased person had died and gave guidance on the court’s jurisdiction to declare such comments unlawful. The question considered was whether the coroner exceeded his powers in giving not only a verdict but also a judgment with comments alleged to be improper.
In brief, the claimant (F) applied to review a judgment of the coroner which had been given after a verdict on the death of F’s Father (X). X had been assaulted and it was alleged that both the ambulance and the police who attended him treated him unfairly because he was black. X was subsequently struck by a taxi and died.
In his judgment the coroner commented on some of the evidence and referred to X having been “over-familiar” with young girls in a club. He also commented that X had not been treated differently because of his race and colour and that F’s solicitors’ suggestion that X’s treatment had been motivated by racial prejudice was entirely unprofessional. F sought to quash the judgment.
It was held that a coroner, sitting without a jury, was entitled to give a verdict and a judgment dealing with the stipulated issues, namely who? how? where? when? only.
A coroner should not make comments on matters that do not relate to any of the stipulated issues; are matters of opinion or are sufficiently unfairly critical and offensive to any party.
The “appeal” court has the power to intervene and declare such comments unlawful – though it said that this power of the court is to be used sparingly.