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I listened very carefully to the debates yesterday, and think it is important to make it clear that I am not trying to extend the coroners role of finding and establishing the cause of death into the more narrative areas that we were trying to avoid. There is no doubt that finding a cause of deliberate neglect or omission or commission of care is a very important part of a coroners fact-finding mission. The public need to have every confidence in a system which is as open as possible, and the public believe in juries. I beg to move.
There is provision in subsection (3) for discretion that an inquest into a death may be held with a jury if the senior coroner thinks that there is sufficient reason for doing so. However, the mandatory requirement for a jury is now limited by the Bill from what it has been. The purpose of Amendments 16, 17, 19 and 20 is to extend those categories.
It is notable that the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Jordan v the United Kingdom examined the states obligations under Article 2 on the right to life following a death in state custody. It held that the state must ensure that the deceaseds family are provided with the truth, that lessons are learnt to improve public health and that, if appropriate, criminal proceedings be brought. The European Court held in particular that an investigation into the death must be made on the initiative of the state and that it should not be left to individual members of the deceaseds family to bring civil proceedings.
The European Court held that the investigation must be independent, effective, prompt, open to public scrutiny, and should support the participation of the next of kin. If those conditions are not fulfilled, there would be a breach of the right to life set out in Article 2. The House of Lords, in the case of Amin, confirmed that judgment and established that these requirements should not only apply where state agents were actively involved in the death of a person, but where the death was alleged to have resulted from negligence on the part of state agents. It is our submission from these Benches that there should be an Article 2-compliant inquest in all cases where the state has failed in its obligation to protect life. I have already indicated to noble Lords the degree to which Clause 7 limits the circumstances in which a mandatory inquest with a jury can be carried out.
In the other place, an amendment was tabled in Committee that proposed adding any other state official to the list of those whose actions resulting in a death would trigger an inquest to be held with a jury. The Government argued that that amendment was too widely drafted. It was a Conservative amendment. Mr David Howarth, my colleague in the other place, said:
to the list of people where an inquest with a jury must be held. We are encouraged by the Minister about that, although frankly I do not think that it goes far enough to meet the requirements of the European Court.
Amendment 17 would add to the circumstances something that is already existing law. We propose to
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The purpose of that is to repeat the existing law. The Coroners Act 1988 provided a requirement to summon a jury in those cases, so this Bill takes a step back in dealing with cases in which continuance or possible recurrence prejudicial to health or safety is concerned. The wording of the amendment was invoked in a 2007 High Court case, involving the deputy coroner of the Queens household, to ensure that an inquest occurred into the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed. That was triggered by the ability of the paparazzi to behave as they did in the hours before the deceased came by their deaths. The inquest was ordered to be held in those circumstances.
The jury is the most democratic institution that we have in this country. In modern times, the jury is more democratic than Parliament, in that it allows the voice of the people to be heard, to set the standards and to come to conclusions, and it is in those circumstances where state officials have misbehaved one way or another that the jurys role is most appropriate. I support the amendment.
Lord Craig of Radley: Amendment 18 would also extend the circumstances in the Bill for inquests to be held with a jury. There are two new instances: where the deceased was undertaking training carried out by Her Majestys forces and where the deceased was under 18 and serving in Her Majestys forces, and in both cases the death was violent or unnatural, or the cause unknown. I am indebted to the help of the Royal British Legion in formulating this amendment.
Military training can be conducted on a 24-hour basis, with individuals living on camp. Some training courses are designed to push people to their physical and mental limits. All of this may increase their vulnerability and necessitate additional safeguards. In the unfortunate case that something goes wrong, my amendment would allow for additional scrutiny of the conduct of the defence authorities, where this additional duty is owed by the state due to the nature of the activity. Similarly, for those under 18, additional safeguards are needed to ensure that increased risks due to age, immaturity and vulnerability have been assessed and reduced.
The Blake report, The Deepcut Review, included a recommendation that only when individuals reached 18 should they be engaged in full military duties, recognising that additional maturity is needed to cope with the strains of military life. Blake also recommended
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My amendment would ensure that, where a death occurs, there is additional scrutiny into the circumstances and that the lessons learnt can be followed up and implemented. These safeguards would help to ensure fair treatment for the youngest members of the Armed Forces, in line with the undertakings in Command Paper 7424, The Nations Commitment: Cross-government Support to our Armed Forces.
Lord Dubs: I support Amendment 17, which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, has introduced very clearly. My contact with this issue stems from my membership of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which we spend a lot of time considering the issues that are before us this evening. It is hard to understand why the Government are limiting further the requirement for compulsory juries in certain instances, in particular the health and safety of the public or public interests. We have had evidence from a number of organisations, in particular Inquest, which had this concern. It talked about juries being fundamental to the democratic system. It said that they,
In such instances, it is very clear that families, who may be extremely distressed at what has happened, want the assurance that everything is handled properly. The best assurance that they can have is that there is a jury to oversee the process by which the coroner looks into the death. I hope that my noble friend will consider this as a good example of a Select Committee and others putting forward arguments to which he will be inclined to be sympathetic.
Lord Henley: I do not know whether it will be helpful if I outline to the Government the views of the Opposition on this matter. The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, and all others who have spoken to the other amendments have made a very good case. We need to hear from the Government just what their reasoning is behind the provisions that they have put into Clause 7.
I entirely accept that having a jury sit with a coroner will be the exception rather than the rule. The overwhelming majority of inquests take place without a jury, and it would be completely impractical if that were not the case, because the costs and logistical implications of having a jury are significant.[Official Report, Commons, Coroners and Justice Bill Committee, 10/2/09; col. 207.]
He went on to say that in certain cases it was very important that there was a jury because it was important for the families of the deceased and others in helping them to come to terms with what had happened.
We have been taken through those provisions by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, who pointed out what the exceptions were. The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, wants to add something to subsection (2). We are then told in subsection (3) that the senior coroner can insist on there being a jury when he thinks that there is sufficient reason for doing so, without spelling out what those sufficient reasons are.
The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, told us that only in about 4 per cent of cases was a jury empanelled in these inquests. We need confirmation from the Government that that is the case. We also need to hear from the Government what assessment they have made about the effects of this clause. Will it reduce that 4 per cent down to a lower figure? More importantlybecause it is rather vaguewhat do the Government think in this context about subsection (3), which gives the senior coroner a very wide power to make exceptions? Presumably, the Government made some assessment when they drafted this provision of what they thought might happen.
Before we take any of these amendments any furtherand no doubt those proposing them will want to consider thiswe need to hear from the Government what assessment they made; I presume that they did make one. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Davies, on behalf of the Ministry of Justice, can tell us what assessment was made on the effect of subsection (1) and the exceptions in subsections (2) and (3), particularly in subsection (3), which seems very vague. Will there be further guidance to the senior coroner on when he will exercise that judgment, or will it be left entirely to him? If so, do the Government have any idea about what the effect will be, or might it change in future?
Lord Alderdice: My noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford has with his usual eloquence outlined the arguments for the amendments in our joint names. However, there are one or two issues on which I shall probe the Minister further. In particular, I refer to the wording used in Clause 7(1), that an,
I cannot help but wonder whether the wording might have been more congenial if it had been, An inquest may be held without a jury, and then, in subsection (3), that an inquest must be held with a jury if the senior coroner thinks it is a good idea. It seems to me that one subsection contradicts the other, rather than giving an alternative or an option.
Increasingly nowadays we find that the functions, particularly of police officers, and sometimes of service police officers, are being carried out by officials in the private sector. For example, in my own part of the world there was, tragically, the murder of two soldiers outside Masserene Army barracks. It emerged subsequently that the security was provided not by the military directly or by the military police service but by private contractors. I shall not go into the details of the implications that that might have for the particular event, but there was an attack to which it would have been not unreasonable to expect some response from people who were not police officers or service police officers but private contractors acting as though they were police officers. Would these subsections apply to officials in the private sector who were acting in the place of police officers or service police officers, doing precisely the same job and doing it on behalf of the state and simply being employed because that is currently the way in which the Government seek to provide certain services?
Baroness Butler-Sloss: I support the amendments in principle. I particularly support the amendment tabled by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, which makes an important addition to Clause 7. I wondered why the Government had not applied to leave out line 18, since they are proposing to leave out Clause 11. However, that is a small point, which will no doubt be put right at some later stage.
I have one caveat. The view of coroners to whom I have been speaking is that any considerable additions to the list of inquests that should have a jury will add fairly substantially to the delay and expense of running cases and that, therefore, if one is to have these additions one must bear that in mind.
If the Minister will forgive me, I support the Government on the wording of Clause 7(1) and (3). My recollection of the Coroners Act 1988 is that an inquest into a death must be held without a jury except in certain circumstancesthe same situation. That is very important because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, said, only about 4 per cent of cases are with juries and there would be considerable pressure on coroners to hold a large number of quite unnecessary cases with juries if you did not have the starting point that you must do it without a jury.
Furthermore, under subsection (3) I take the view that it is very important that the senior coroner should have a very broad power to have a jury. I was personally rapped over the knuckles by the divisional court in the case to which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, referred. Sitting in my capacity as a deputy assistant coroner, I had continued that case on Princess Diana without a jury. It is very important that the senior coroner should have a board remit on this. I do not think that, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said, the may and must should be transposed or that that would be in the public interest.
Lord Ramsbotham: At the risk of boring the House, I would like to refer to the debates and discussions we
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One of the reasons I welcome the formation of a more formalised coronial service, if that is right, is that I suspect that when coroners involved in a case relating to deaths in custody come to decide whether this is a case that ought to go to a jury because it contains aspects that deserve something more than a normal inquisitorial processthey will be better informed, and therefore the doubts that exist over the system at the moment may be ameliorated. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, said, there will not be all that many, but it is important that the whole system is subject to overall review, rather than it being left to be a sort of post code lottery. In this way, relatives can expect that the jury system, in which they as citizens have more confidence than a non-jury system, will result in fair rights, not depending on where they happen to be.
Baroness Young of Hornsey: I speak briefly in support of the spirit of all the amendments in this grouping. I have been fascinated by the arguments put forward by noble Lords, and I am pleased to say that most of the points I wanted to make have already been made. I do, however, wanted to reinforce some of the comments made by my noble friend Lady Murphy about black and minority ethnic people in respect of this particular issue.
As she pointed out, black people are very much over-represented in the mental health system and in the prison system: they are more likely to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act and more likely to be among those detained and awaiting deportation under the Immigration Act. In fact, black Britons are over 44 times more likely than their white counterparts to be detained under section in the mental health system, despite having similar rates of mental ill-health as other ethnic groups. Especially relevant here, as my noble friend Lady Murphy has pointed out, is that people of African-Caribbean descent are much more likely to be given high doses of potent behaviour-modifying drugs and are much more likely to be physically restrained. This has led to a number of fatal, tragic outcomes: she mentioned the case of Rocky Bennett as one of those.
These issues are not exclusively the concern of black and minority ethnic communitiesof course they are not. That has been amply illustrated. I do think, however, as is often the case, what has had a negative impact on one section of society indicates that the system is not working as effectively as it should for people in generalparticularly those in
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Juries do give a degree of openness and transparency required in these tragic circumstances, and they are fundamental to democracy, as they represent the only opportunity where ordinary peopleindependent of state authoritiescan participate in the judicial system. This is particularly important where the state is implicated in a death, or where there is even a question mark about the possible role of the state in a death, and it is particularly important also for those who come from vulnerable communities and lack confidence in the system because of their negative experiences.
Limiting the calling of juries to the types of cases outlined currently in subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 7 is insufficient. It would mean that cases of negligence or gross negligence, neglect and systemic failures might not be heard before juries, and this will further damage the confidence of the public and the families, and will not ensure that that sense of independence and impartiality is in the inquest system. All inquests into deaths in state custody or detention should automatically be brought before a jury, in my view. I hope we will get a further chance to discuss this shortly.
Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this interesting and important debate. I will try to establish some context. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, invited me to do that in numerical terms. That will stretch me somewhat, but I will do my best. He suggested that inquests that take place with a jury made up about 4 per cent of cases a year. Our figure is 2 per cent. It means that fewer than 500 inquests across the whole of England and Wales take place with a jury. We do see the provisions in this clause increasing the number of inquests with juries. It may go up from 2 per cent to 3 per cent. There will be an increase, because of the provisions of the Bill designed to meet the representations that have been made during this debate today, about areas where real concerns have been expressed and where the value of juries has been extolled. Of course, noble Lords are absolutely right when they put forward that principle; it is an important part of a democratic society.
However, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, raised the question of what the principle is behind this clause, and whether it was back-to-front. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, answered that point better than I could. The presumption behind the legislation is the practice of the nation at the present time and always has been: namely, the vast majority of inquests take place without a jury, but provision needs to be made for a jury in significant and particular cases. The point about Clause 7(3) in those terms is that it makes provision for judgments that a jury should sit. But of course we anticipate, under our proposals, that the vast majority of inquests will continue, as they have always been, to be determined by a
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