The Chief Coroner, HHJ Mark Lucraft QC, is holding the Inquests into the deaths of the four victims of the Westminster Bridge attack and the Police Officer killed within the Palace of Westminster in March 2017.

Sebastian Naughton of Serjeants’ Inn Chambers is representing one of the NHS Trusts who provided care to victims of the attack.  The inquest transcripts are publicly available here .

Bridget Dolan QC and Michael Walsh have been advising the Senior Coroner for Preston and Lancashire on the legal aspects of setting up an innovative, radiologist-led, non-invasive post mortem “digital autopsy” service in Lancashire, as described in this article from the Health Service Journal.

Innovations in post-mortem scanning techniques, including the use of targeted coronary angiography,  mean that a technique that was in the past mainly used as an adjunct to a traditional autopsy examination can now wholly replace the need for evisceration of the body. [1] [2]  As CT scanning alone can now provide a cause of death in 90% of cases this has now become the first-line investigation for coronial post mortem examinations in Lancashire.   

In co-operation between the local NHS Trusts, the Local Authority and a private provider, this "free at point of delivery" digital autopsy service is staffed by NHS personnel (including consultant radiologists & pathologists, specialist forensic radiographers and specially trained APTs). The service  is provided at a less than cost or cost neutral expenditure when compared to traditional post-mortems.   In the first three months of operation, over 90 per cent of scans established the cause of death thereby avoiding 415 invasive post-mortems.

The comfort and benefit delivered to bereaved families by the knowledge that an accurate cause of death has been identified without resorting to evisceration of the body is considerable and not to be underestimated.

 

[1]        Diagnostic accuracy of post-mortem CT with targeted coronary angiography versus autopsy for coroner-requested post-mortem investigations: a prospective, masked, comparison study. Rutty et al, Lancet 2017; 390: 145–54.

[2]   Postmortem CT Angiography Compared with Autopsy: A Forensic Multicenter Study.  Grabherr et al.  May [2018] Radiology  https://pubs.rsna.org/doi/10.1148/radiol.2018170559    

His Honour Peter Rook QC has decided to hear the forthcoming inquest into the death of Sean Benton without a jury. Private Benton died from gunshot wounds at Deepcut Barracks in 1995, the first of four deaths at the barracks that have caused enduring public interest and led to numerous investigations. The original inquest, which took place only weeks after his death, was quashed by the High Court in 2016 and new hearings will begin in January 2018.

His Honour Peter Rook QC, formerly Senior Circuit Judge at the Old Bailey, was appointed as Nominated Coroner by the Lord Chief Justice. He was invited by the family of Sean Benton to exercise his discretion to hear the fresh inquest with a jury. His detailed reasons have been published and will be of interest to inquest practitioners, especially those working in military deaths and in cases likely to attract press coverage. They can be viewed here.

Bridget Dolan QC and Jamie Mathieson are instructed as Counsel to the inquest. John Beggs QC and Cecily White have been instructed for the inquest on behalf of Surrey Police, and Paul Spencer of Serjeants' Inn Chambers is instructed to represent a medical professional working at the barracks.

On 7 March 2018 Katie Gollop QC gave oral evidence to the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights in support of the provision of public funding for families at inquests.   

http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/joint-select/human-rights-committee/

A briefing paper provided to assist the committee, which was prepared by Katie in consultation with some other barristers from Serjeants' Inn chambers, is reproduced below

All barristers at Serjeants’ Inn Chambers are independent, self-employed, sole practitioners. For that reason, Serjeants’ Inn does not have a collective view and the views expressed here are personal. That said, a number of barristers (including two who sit as Assistant Coroners) have contributed thoughts and/or provided examples of inquests (see the appendix at the end) that inform the question: are human rights being enforced in the coronial justice system?

IF THE DECEASED IS BEYOND JUSTICE, WHY DOES AN INQUEST MATTER?

  1. Inquests, properly conducted and where the conclusions are heeded by those with the power to effect change, save lives.

  2. They hold organisations and individuals to account publicly. They expose wrongdoing by the state. They identify and record the facts.

  3. In so doing, inquests:
    1. enable next of kin to understand what happened. And having understood, to grieve.
    2. dispel rumours and conspiracies.
    3. promote public confidence in state agencies – that there was no wrongdoing or that lessons have been learned so no one else will die in the same circumstances.

  1. Lives are saved by the inquest:
    1. Identifying defective systems, policies and procedures.
    2. Identifying individual and organisational practice that is lacking.
    3. Reporting areas where change is required to prevent future deaths.
    4. Providing publicly available information about the circumstances of deaths so that patterns and clusters can be seen.

His Hon Peter Rook, Q.C. has appointed Bridget Dolan QC and Jamie Mathieson as Counsel to the Inquest into the death of Private Geoff Gray. This is the third fresh inquest into a death of a trainee at Deepcut Barracks in Surrey.  It follows the inquests into the deaths of Ms Cheryl James and Mr Sean Benton.

The inquest hearings will commence in 2019.  At the next pre-inquest review hearing, which will be held on Friday 20th July 2018, the judge will hear the family's application for a jury.