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Jordan (AP) (Appellant) v. Lord Chancellor and another (Respondents) (Northern Ireland) McCaughey (AP) (Appellant) v. Chief Constable of the Police Service Northern Ireland) (Respondent) (Northern Ireland)
LORD BINGHAM OF CORNHILL
1. Each of these two cases, in which the appeals have been heard together, concerns an inquest which has been opened and is to continue in Northern Ireland. Each inquest concerns a death which occurred years ago: 25 November 1992 in the case brought by Mr Jordan, 9 October 1990 in that brought by Mr McCaughey. Both the deceased, Pearse Jordan and Martin McCaughey, were directly shot and killed by agents of the state, in the case of the former by an officer of the Royal Ulster Constabulary identified only as Sergeant A, and in the case of the latter by soldiers serving in Northern Ireland. The appeals by Mr Jordan and Mr McCaughey against decisions of the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland raise, in the end, one common question: what findings or verdict may the jury return? In Mr McCaughey's appeal a further question arises, as to the extent of the Chief Constable's duty of disclosure under section 8 of the Coroners Act (Northern Ireland) 1959. In both cases the shape of the argument has altered considerably in the course of the hearings below and in the House, but it is appropriate to concentrate on what have now emerged as the cardinal issues, as just summarised.
2. The inquest into the death of Pearse Jordan has been dogged by severe delay. To this a number of causes have contributed, among them controversy concerning the Director of Public Prosecutions' decision not to prosecute, several applications for judicial review and a successful application by Mr Jordan against the United Kingdom in the European Court of Human Rights. The facts and much of the earlier procedural history are summarised in the judgment of the court (Jordan v United Kingdom (2003) 37 EHRR 52, paras 11-54) and that summary need not be repeated. The present appeal by Mr Jordan arises from two applications for judicial review made by him. By the first he challenged the Lord Chancellor's failure to introduce legislation to ensure that the inquest system in Northern Ireland complied with article 2 of the European Convention. This application was dismissed by Kerr J on 29 January 2002: Re Jordan's Application  NIQB 7,  NI 151. By the second he challenged a ruling of the coroner on 9 January 2002 that he would conduct the inquest on the basis of existing law and practice and would not leave to the jury the option of returning a verdict of unlawful killing. This application was dismissed by Kerr J on 8 March 2002: Re Jordan's Application  NIQB 20. Mr Jordan appealed against both these decisions of Kerr J. In the judgment under appeal the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeals, but did so in terms which Mr Jordan was initially willing to accept: Re Jordan's Application for Judicial Review  NICA 29,  NI 144. He was prompted to challenge the Court of Appeal's decision by its later decision on Mr McCaughey's application.
3. On 2 April 1993 the Director of Public Prosecutions announced that there would be no prosecution arising from the death of Martin McCaughey. An inquest was to be held. Over the next ten years the Chief Constable intermittently supplied the coroner with copies of some but not all documents held by the police relating to the deaths of Martin McCaughey and also Desmond Grew who was killed at the same time and in the same circumstances. The Chief Constable supplied Mr McCaughey with copies of all documents provided to the coroner, but not of documents withheld from the coroner. Mr McCaughey applied for judicial review, challenging the Chief Constable's retention of the withheld documents. At first instance, Weatherup J held that the Chief Constable was under a duty by virtue of section 8 of the 1959 Act and article 2 of the Convention to provide some of the withheld documents (the report of the police officer who investigated the deaths and unrelated intelligence reports) to the coroner: Re McCaughey and Grew's Application 2004 NIQB 2. He also held that the inquest was unduly delayed, in breach of article 2. The Chief Constable appealed. The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal, holding that section 8 only obliged the Chief Constable to provide the coroner with such information as he had concerning the death at the time of giving the coroner notice of the death, and that the Chief Constable had no duty under article 2 of the Convention to provide any of the withheld documents to the coroner since the Human Rights Act 1998 did not apply to a death occurring before the date when it came into force: Police Service of Northern Ireland v McCaughey and Grew  NICA 1,  NI 344.
4. As is evident from the dates given in para 1 above, both the deaths with which this appeal is concerned occurred well before the Human Rights Act 1998 came into general effect on 2 October 2000.
The legislation and the rules
5. The law governing the conduct of inquests in Northern Ireland has developed separately from that in England and Wales, but despite differences of timing the law has in more recent times followed a similar path in both jurisdictions and both have borrowed from the other.
6. In Ireland the then existing law was amended by the Coroners Act 1846 (9 & 10 Vict. cap 37). This Act was largely devoted to administrative matters irrelevant for present purposes. But it provided in section 22 that in a case of sudden death or death attended with suspicious circumstances the police in the district where the body was found or the death happened should give immediate notice to the local coroner "together with such information as they shall have been able to obtain" touching the finding of the body or the death, and the coroner "if upon receipt of such or other sufficient notice and information he shall deem it necessary to hold an inquest" was to summon a jury and such witnesses as he deemed necessary. Section 37 made plain that a coroner's inquisition could charge a person with the commission of crime, and the inquisition found upon any inquest was not (section 46) to be invalidated for want of language such as "with force and arms", "against the peace" or "against the form of the statute" or because, save in cases of murder or manslaughter, the inquisition was not duly sealed or written on parchment.
7. The law applicable in England and Wales was amended and consolidated by the Coroners Act 1887. Section 3(1) of the Act obliged a coroner to summon a jury to inquire into a death where he was informed that the dead body of a person was lying within his jurisdiction "and there is reasonable cause to suspect that such person has died either a violent or an unnatural death, or has died a sudden death of which the cause is unknown, or that such person has died in prison, or in such place or under such circumstances as to require an inquest in pursuance of any Act". After viewing the body and hearing the evidence the jury (section 4(3)) were to give their verdict in writing "setting forth, so far as such particulars have been proved to them, who the deceased was, and how, when, and where the deceased came by his death, and if he came by his death by murder or manslaughter, the persons, if any, whom the jury find to have been guilty of such murder or manslaughter, or of being accessories before the fact to such murder". Provision was made (section 5) for a coroner's inquisition to charge a person with murder or manslaughter or being an accessory thereto. Section 18(2) provided that, as in Ireland, an inquisition need not be on parchment save in cases of murder or manslaughter, and further provided that it "may be in the form contained in the Second Schedule to this Act, or to the like effect or in such other form as the Lord Chancellor from time to time prescribes, or to the like effect, and the statements therein may be made in concise and ordinary language". The Form of Inquisition in the Second Schedule gave quite detailed guidance. First of all, it provided for the circumstances of the death to be set out, for example,
The jury were then to set out their conclusion as to the death, and again examples were given, among them
Other examples were given.
8. The next change of substance was made, again in England and Wales, by the Coroners (Amendment) Act 1926. The coroner's duty to summon a jury, laid down in section 3(1) of the 1887 Act, was enlarged by section 13(2):
Section 25(1) recognised and regulated the power of a coroner's inquisition to charge a person with murder, manslaughter or infanticide. Sections 26 and 27 conferred wide rule-making powers on the Lord Chancellor.
9. The Coroners Rules 1953 (SI 1953/205) were made under sections 26 and 27 of the 1926 Act. They provided, in rules 26 and 27:
These rules were supplemented by rules 32-34:
Rule 42 provided that the forms set out in the Third Schedule to the Rules, "with such modifications as circumstances may require, may be used for the purposes for which they are expressed to be applicable". Form 18 in the Third Schedule contained a form of inquisition. The name of the deceased was to be given. The injury or disease causing death was to be identified, attention being focused (in the case of a death from natural causes, industrial disease, want of attention at birth, chronic alcoholism or addiction to drugs) on the immediate cause of death and the morbid conditions (if any) giving rise to the immediate cause of death. In the case of injury, details were to be given of the time place and circumstances at or in which the injury was sustained. The conclusion of the jury or the coroner was to be stated. In the case of a death from natural causes, industrial disease etc a number of forms of verdict were suggested. In any other case except murder, manslaughter, infanticide or stillbirth, one of the following forms was suggested: "CD killed himself [whilst the balance of his mind was disturbed]"; "CD died as the result of an accident/misadventure"; "The killing of CD was justifiable or excusable". Provision was made for an open verdict. Attention was drawn, in the case of murder, manslaughter or infanticide, to the Rules set out in the Indictable Offices (Coroners) Rules 1927.
10. These developments in England and Wales were plainly influential when the law in Northern Ireland was amended and consolidated in the Coroners Act (Northern Ireland) 1959 which, although since amended, remains in force. Section 7 of this Act imposed a duty on certain persons, in broadly defined circumstances, to give information to the coroner:
Section 8, the subject of the disclosure issue in Mr McCaughey's appeal, imposed a duty on the police:
On receiving information under section 7 or section 8, the coroner must (section 11) instruct a constable to take possession of the body and "make such investigation as may be required to enable him to determine whether or not an inquest is necessary".