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R (Grice) v HM Senior Coroner of Brighton and Hove [2020] EWHC 3581 (here)

Will an inquest always be required after a homicide trial when there have been alleged failures by state agents to protect life?  In this Judicial Review case Garnham J gives us the answer by summarising the scope of the requirements of an effective Art 2 investigation and, particularly helpfully, setting out what is not required to satisfy the state’s the investigative obligation.

The Senior Coroner had refused to re-open the inquest into the murder of a woman by her former partner after her complaints of stalking were mishandled by police. There was no question that Art.2 was engaged on the basis of potential breach by the police of their operational duty to safeguard the victim’s life. Furthermore, the criminal trial alone had not satisfied the state’s Art.2 investigative duty.  However, the judge agreed with the Senior Coroner that the European Convention does not adopt a prescriptive approach to the form of the Art.2 investigation, so long as minimum standards are met.  One must look at the totality of the investigations conducted by the state whilst remembering that even the minimum requirements involve a degree of flexibility.

In this case the Art.2 obligation to conduct a prompt and effective independent inquiry with sufficient public scrutiny and sufficient involvement of the next of kin had been met by the combination of the criminal trial, a domestic homicide review and the three other investigations of police conduct. The Senior Coroner was not only entitled to find that these enquiries satisfied Art.2; she was right to do so.

The Background

Shana Grice had made reports to Sussex Police on a number of occasions complaining of stalking behaviour by her ex-partner Michael Lane.  Ms Grice had an ongoing but intermittent relationship with Lane during this period.  At one stage she was considered to have misled the police about the nature of her relationship with Lane and had received a fixed penalty notice for wasting police time.  When Ms Grice finally broke off her relationship with Lane he killed her.   

An inquest was opened but suspended, pursuant to sched 1 para 2 CJA 2009, pending Lane's homicide trial. He pleaded not guilty but was convicted of murder in March 2017. In his sentencing remarks the judge noted his concern with the way in which Ms Grice’s  complaints had been handled by the police. 

Four further investigations or reviews followed the trial: 

When the Senior Coroner was asked to resume the inquest she acknowledged that the state's investigative obligation under Art.2 ECHR was engaged on the basis of potential breach by the police of their operational duty to safeguard Ms Grice’s life.  However, the Senior Coroner also determined that there was not sufficient reason to resume the inquest in the light of all the other investigations that had already taken place. 

Ms Grice’s mother, brought judicial review proceedings arguing that the inquiries to date, whether viewed individually or collectively, were insufficient to meet the requirements of Art.2. She submitted that the criminal trial  involved almost no exploration of the circumstances relating to the police’s responses to Shama's complaints and the subsequent investigations were undertaken in private where the bereaved family’s ability to participate in the hearings was either very limited or absent.

Mr Justice Garnham dismissed the claim: the Coroner’s determination that the criminal trial and the other investigations which followed were sufficient to meet the Art.2 obligation was reasonable.

The Coroner had been obliged to suspend the inquest pursuant to Schedule 1 CJA 2009 and a suspended investigation "may not be resumed unless, but must be resumed if, the Senior Coroner thinks that there is sufficient reason for resuming it…". That decision was one for the Coroner's judgment and was one of a highly discretionary character.   A central issue for the Coroner was whether other procedures had already answered the statutory questions under s.5 CJA 2009 (including how the deceased came to die) in a manner which adequately served the public interest.

Article 2 requirements:

The precise requirements of an Art.2 investigation vary according to the circumstances of the case under consideration, but what are commonly referred to as the Jordanrequirements must be met: 

What is not required?

The judge also helpfully set out what is not required to fulfil the Jordan Art.2 requirements:

"Viewed in its totality, the investigations met the minimum requirements of Article 2"

The question was whether, viewed in its totality, the investigations met the minimum requirements identified in Jordan. Commonly, a murder trial alone will meet the state’s Art.2 obligations in respect of a death, and an inquest thereafter will not be necessary. It was not sufficient here because it became apparent that there were serious failings by the police which contributed to the death

The Claimant’s complaints were regarding independence, effectiveness, public scrutiny and the next of kin’s involvement.  However, there had been prompt, independent enquiries initiated by the state of its own motion, which were effective, both in the manner in which they established the relevant facts and in the results they achieved, which provided a sufficient element of public scrutiny of the investigation or its results to secure proper accountability and which involved the family to the extent necessary to safeguard their legitimate interests. The Senior Coroner was not only entitled to find that these enquiries satisfied Art.2; she was right to do so.

 

References

1.  Jordan v UK (2003) 37 EHRR 2 

 

George Thomas of Serjeants Inn Chambers (instructed by Weightmans LLP) represented the Chief Constable of Sussex as an Interested Party.