New Chief Coroner’s Guidance
The Chief Coroner, His Honour Judge Mark Lucraft QC, has published new Guidance on Judge-led inquests, to be known as “Guidance No 30”. It is published on his website and has been circulated to all coroners. Please see here.
The Guidance primarily addresses the transfer of an inquest from the jurisdiction of a coroner to that of a judge, thereby discharging the relevant senior coroner from his or her duty to conduct an investigation.
Most significantly, the Guidance concerns inquests in which security sensitive material (including intercept-related material) falls to be considered. This is the first time that open Guidance has been published on this topic by the Chief Coroner; prior to HH Judge Lucraft QC assuming the office of Chief Coroner, there was Guidance on sensitive material which was published confidentially to coroners and not available to lawyers and the public.
The Guidance further explores the topic of two-stage disclosure, as discussed in the Chief Coroner’s Law Sheet No. 3 on the Worcestershire case. The Chief Coroner considers the principles as they particularly relate to sensitive material, and the interplay with the assertion of Public Interest Immunity (PII).
Also addressed is the narrow category of material which cannot be disclosed to a coroner at all, but which may only be disclosed to a judge who has been nominated to hear an inquest, as in Schedule 10 of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (IPA). The Guidance takes into account the recent amendments to IPA which permit the disclosure of material governed by IPA to a security-cleared legal adviser acting as Solicitor or Counsel to the Inquest. Where an inquest is to be heard by a coroner, the existence of material governed by IPA may be disclosed to the coroner, but the material itself may not be.
Finally, the Guidance discusses the process for nominating a judge under IPA in cases of national security, as well as the cases in which it is appropriate to appoint a judge to be an assistant coroner.
A significant number of Members of 5 Essex Court are security vetted, to DV and SC Level. Members of Chambers often act in cases concerning matters of national security and have extensive experience as Counsel to the Inquest in such cases.