5 Essex Court


16 Nov 20 Back to Listing

The Decision from the Supreme Court in Maughan : Significant Ramifications for Coroners and Practitioners

The much anticipated judgment of the Supreme Court in R (Maughan) v HM Senior Coroner for Oxfordshire [2020] UKSC 46 was handed down on Friday 13th November. The appeal was primarily concerned with the standard of proof to be applied at an inquest when considering the short-form conclusion of “Suicide” and whether that standard differs if the relevant facts are recorded in a “Narrative Conclusion”.

Following a hearing in February 2020, at which the Court heard from not only the parties but also the Chief Coroner of England and Wales and the charity, INQUEST, as Interveners, the appeal was dismissed by a majority of 3-2.

Lady Arden (who gave the leading judgment) and Lords Wilson and Carnwath held that the standard of proof for all conclusions at an inquest is the civil standard, namely the “balance of probabilities”. The civil standard must now be applied to the short-form conclusion of Suicide as well as to a Narrative Conclusion, and it must also be applied to the short-form conclusion of “Unlawful Killing”. Lords Reed and Kerr gave dissenting judgments.

Coroners have been applying the civil standard in relation the conclusion of Suicide for some time now, as both courts below gave judgments to the same effect; this aspect of the case will not come as a shock, therefore.  But the Supreme Court’s decision that the conclusion of Unlawful Killing is also subject to the civil standard represents a change which is likely to have significant and wide-ranging ramifications for coroners and practitioners. The ruling will increase the number of cases in which Unlawful Killing will be considered and returned, not only for deaths in custody or following the use of force, but also for deaths following serious concerns about clinical care.

The Chief Coroner has already written to coroners with some guidance but it seems likely that a comprehensive review will have to follow, once the effect of the judgment has been fully digested.

The judgment can be found here.

Alison Hewitt appeared on behalf of the Respondent, HM Senior Coroner for Oxfordshire.