13 November 2020 by

R (Maughan) v Her Majesty’s Senior Coroner for Oxfordshire [2020] UKSC 46

The Supreme Courtroom has now issued its judgment on this vital case for Coroners and inquests coping with the usual of proof to be utilized the place the dying may need been attributable to suicide or illegal killing.

Everybody who has accomplished an inquest the place these conclusions had been life like on the proof has historically gone together with the concept that as a way to be glad that both conclusion must be returned the prison commonplace of proof was required.

That is typically seen in follow, notably the place suicide is worried, as being a manner for Coroner’s to return an open verdict the place there isn’t any constructive and direct proof that the deceased meant to take his or her life even when the encircling circumstances level clearly in that course. Such an strategy will be welcome to households grieving the lack of a member of the family.

Nevertheless, that every one modified with the judgment of the Divisional Courtroom after which the Courtroom of Enchantment on this case (see my earlier blog post on this judgment here). This lengthy held follow was held to be devoid of a sound authorized foundation and that provided that the inquest was not itself a prison continuing then the civil commonplace should be utilized. The Supreme Courtroom has now confirmed that that’s proper, albeit by a majority of three to 2.

The result’s that every one types of conclusion within the coroner’s courtroom whether or not narrative or quick type are to be rendered on the steadiness of possibilities. This contains suicide and illegal killing.


The attraction arises out of the dying on 11 July 2016 of James Maughan, at HMP Bullingdon. On the inquest, the Senior Coroner for Oxfordshire determined that the jury couldn’t safely attain a brief type conclusion of suicide. This was as a result of the jury couldn’t make sure past affordable doubt that James Maughan had meant to kill himself. The Senior Coroner put inquiries to the jury and requested them to make a story assertion of the circumstances of James Maughan’s dying on a steadiness of possibilities. The jury answered the questions put to them by saying that he had a historical past of psychological well being points and that on a steadiness of possibilities he meant fatally to hold himself and that elevated vigilance wouldn’t have prevented his dying. Thus, the identical conclusion was successfully reached by completely different means.

The Judgment

Did the shape issued beneath the Coroners Guidelines specify the prison commonplace of proof?

There was first a dispute based mostly on whether or not there was successfully statutorily prescribed commonplace of proof for brief type verdicts based mostly on the Coroners (Inquests) Guidelines 2013 which prescribes a type for recording conclusions. Notice (iii) states that the usual of proof “required” for brief type conclusions of suicide and illegal killing is the prison commonplace and that for different conclusions together with narrative conclusions, the civil commonplace applies.

In some ways the result of this difficulty relied on what the members of the Supreme Courtroom held was meant by the phrase “required” in Notice (iii). The bulk held that this formulation was not a definite endorsement of the prison commonplace as a rule unbiased of the widespread legislation place on that query. The dissent, as I word under, takes a extra literal strategy and holds that the Notice is itself a binding assertion of the right commonplace.

The bulk refused to see the word because the specification of an ordinary of proof however as an alternative a mirrored image of what was then understood to be the place. They relied on the very fact whereas that is talked about within the word there may be actually no rule which specifies the usual of proof and (besides Lord Carnwath) on the provisions of the general public session resulting in adoption of the Guidelines.

It’s simple to see why this word was not seen as having the decisive impression which was being urged on the Courtroom. Whereas it’s doable in some contexts for provisions contained in varieties adopted with guidelines to have this impact and for all parts of statutory devices together with footnotes to vary the legislation and undertake new guidelines instead of the previous, for a provision within the context of a type to vary or specify the usual of proof would require clear contextual proof to sign that this was the case. Whereas using necessary language “required” arguably does to, for this to look in a Notice amongst provisions meant as a reminder of the legislation for these filling within the type would appear odd.

What’s the commonplace of proof as a matter of authorized precept?

On the primary query of precept, particularly whether or not the widespread legislation acknowledged a special commonplace of proof for suicide and illegal killing, Girl Arden concluded that the civil stand proof utilized to quick type conclusions of suicide. To use completely different requirements of proof for brief type and narrative conclusions would result in an internally inconsistent system of fact-finding [71]. Whereas the judgment is principally involved with the authorized ideas underlying the identification of the usual of proof it additionally refers to the truth that the upper the usual of proof the much less doubtless it’s that the prevalence of suicide shall be precisely recorded [73-74]. Moreover, the attraction for particular therapy for suicide couldn’t be seen as a compelling one since societal attitudes to suicide have modified and the function of inquests has developed to be involved with the investigation of deaths, not prison justice [75-81]. Particularly, Girl Arden identified that suicide, whereas initially against the law, isn’t any longer and has not been since 1961.

Girl Arden held that the civil commonplace of proof additionally utilized to determinations of illegal killing [93],[96]. There’s then consistency between the determinations made at an inquest [96]. That is one thing which raised as a probable end result in my previous post. The Courtroom of Enchantment was certain to seek out that the prison commonplace utilized as a result of there was binding authority to that impact. Nevertheless, Girl Arden took the strategy that to permit inconsistent and complicated twin approaches to be utilized in the identical inquest relying on whether or not a brief type verdict of illegal killing was being entertained versus a story was unsatisfactory and that the identical precept ought to apply as to all different civil proceedings. She additionally rejected the concept that part 10(2) of the Coroner’s Act 2009 which states “will not be framed in such a manner as to look to find out any query of prison … legal responsibility on the a part of a named individual …” had the impact of specifying the prison commonplace.

The judgment on illegal killing is especially delicate as a result of it should result in determinations that somebody  was unlawfully killed being made on the civil commonplace of proof and in a context the place the procedural protections obtainable in a prison courtroom should not obtainable to somebody successfully accused of the killing. The privilege in opposition to self-incrimination survives in fact however it’s questionable at the very least whether or not the coroner’s system is successfully outfitted to guard the respectable pursuits of these accused of being chargeable for killing another person.

The Dissent

The dissent was to the impact that quick type verdicts of suicide and illegal killing must be handled individually and that there was nothing flawed in doing so. They had been handled individually as a result of there was case legislation supporting a special commonplace of proof and that that case legislation had been mirrored in Notice (iii) to the shape for recording inquest conclusions. Provided that this was launched as a part of the Coroners Guidelines there was due to this fact a statutory foundation for holding that the usual of proof was the prison commonplace and until and till modified by Parliament that remained the place.


From a sensible perspective inquest practitioners are maybe unlikely to be persuaded that there’s a lot of a distinction between a story verdict which says suicide in lengthy type and one which says merely “suicide”. The dissent was, in fact, constrained to simply accept this as a result of Notice (iii) is obvious in stating that the usual is the civil commonplace for narrative verdicts.

Assigning particular significance to quick type verdicts versus narratives appears a synthetic train and one which might have laid particular stress on the choice whether or not to render a brief type verdict or a story, itself a query of discretion. It was the sophistry of discovering that the deceased most likely intentionally killed himself however that this was not “suicide” that led the Divisional Courtroom to take the strategy that it did and fostering that form of twin strategy doesn’t appear a passable manner ahead.

The bulk judgment does, for my part, attain a end result which is extra coherent with the appreciable physique of case legislation over current years to carry that, as a matter of widespread legislation precept, the prison commonplace applies in prison proceedings however not in any other case. The Supreme Courtroom (and earlier than that the Home of Lords) has held in a string of circumstances that one civil commonplace applies in all proceedings even the place the problems might be forged by way of the prison legislation (see Lord Carnwath’s judgment at [99]). That may be the case for instance in skilled disciplinary proceedings based mostly on allegations of assault or theft, or in household proceedings the place cruelty and neglect are alleged typically involving accidents which might simply quantity to grievous bodily hurt or in plain previous civil proceedings which allege fraud. That physique of case legislation would name for a similar commonplace to be utilized throughout the completely different conclusions to be returned by the Courtroom.

However the narrower level at difficulty on this case was that it seems that everybody accepts {that a} narrative verdict bearing on the identical points should be reached on the idea of the steadiness of possibilities. I can not consider a purpose why such a concession shouldn’t imply that, for the sake of logic and actual world practicality, the identical commonplace ought to apply no matter which format of conclusion is into account.

It should be higher absolutely to have one constant commonplace of proof in a case involving potential illegal killing no matter whether or not the Coroner or jury is being invited to return a brief type or narrative verdict. The info of Maughan itself illustrate the strained place adopting two completely different requirements of proof for reaching successfully the identical conclusion in a special linguistic format. The jury had been directed that they might not take into account suicide as a result of the proof couldn’t at its highest justify such a conclusion taking into account the usual of proof however had been requested to reply a variety of questions on the civil commonplace which resulted in the identical general conclusion. That form of system could be troublesome to elucidate to put individuals and makes little sense. The bulk judgment appears to me to supply a logical and constant strategy.

Owain Thomas QC is a barrister at 1 Crown Workplace Row