The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith has introduced a Bill aimed at using the coronial system to record where gambling addiction has contributed to suicide.

If the Coroners (Determination of Suicide) Bill [HL] (HL Bill 32) is passed, then where the inquest's conclusion is suicide, the coroner or jury will be required to record an opinion “as to any factors which were relevant to the death[1]

The one factor which the coroner or jury must consider under the proposals is whether the deceased had an addiction to gambling, no other specific factors are identified.[2]

Dr Smith is motivated in bringing forth the Bill having “met far too many families whose lives have been destroyed by the loss of a loved one, often young adults who have their entire lives ahead of them.” Indeed, a quick web search for “gambling” and “suicide” reveals pages of search results detailing a litany of tragic deaths, mostly of young men.

Dr Smith has a track record of instigating measures to limit the impact of gambling. In 2019, he used a Private Members’ Bill to push for a ban on gambling with credit cards. He was also a leader in the successful campaign to reduce the maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals.

Many would have sympathy with the aim of the Bill – there is a dearth of epidemiological evidence regarding the causative relevance of gambling to the decision to take one’s own life. If the Bill became law it would enable more reliable statistics to be produced and highlight the suicide risk associated with gambling addiction: thereby placing pressure on the Government to respond. According to the Bishop, “Campaigners estimate two suicides every working day of the year are linked to gambling, while the Government and the industry cites lack of data as a reason for making slow progress in reducing harm”[3]

The NHS has called for more preventive action ‘as opposed to just a treatment-first approach to tackling gambling-related harm’, according to the Bishop. Further evidence of gambling-related harm will strengthen the case for such resources.

Should coroners stray into why someone died?

The current drafting is so broad, however – “any factors which were relevant to the death” – that it begs the question, of what other factors will the coroner/jury choose or be required to record?

One can foresee those who feel wronged seeking to persuade the coroner to record matters that reflect on those they feel had some part to play in the death.  Will we see “he killed himself because he was made redundant and discovered his wife was sleeping with another man”, or “she killed herself when her family did not accept her sexuality”?   

It is for good reason that coroner's courts record how but not why someone died.   Should the proposed new rule come into force it is hoped that all will approach it with due tact and sensitivity, recognising the further trauma and distress that formally recording the reasons why someone chose to end their life may cause those left behind.

 

The Bill passed its First Reading in the House of Lords on 16 January 2020, a Second Reading date is yet to be announced.

 

 

[1] proposed rule 35(1) of the Coroners (Inquests) Rules 2013.

[2] proposed rule 35(2).

[3] https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/news/bishop-sets-out-change-inquest-law-expose-scale-gambling-role-suicide.