08 Apr Landmark hearing at the Court of Appeal in the case of Maughan starts today
This case will decide the standard of proof for suicide and unlawful killing conclusions.
R. (on the application of Maughan) v HM Senior Coroner for Oxfordshire  EWHC 1955 (Admin) on appeal
9 and 10 April 2019 at the Court of Appeal
The Maughan case has been selected by the Court of Appeal for live streaming due to its high profile and legal significance. Certain proceedings of the Court of Appeal’s Civil Division are now live-streamed to increase open justice and improve public access and understanding of the justice system. The live-streamed broadcast of hearings will be accessible from the judiciary’s website. The video will also be accessible from this website after the hearing.
- Karon Monaghan QC from Matrix Chambers and Jude Bunting from Doughty Street Chambers (instructed by Najma Rasul of Matthew Gold and Company Ltd to represent the Appellant)
- Alison Hewitt (instructed by Oxfordshire County Council Legal Department for the Respondent)
- Jonathan Hough QC (instructed by the Chief Coroner’s Office – Intervener 1)
- Adam Straw from Doughty Street Chambers (instructed by INQUEST – Intervener 2)
Legal Challenge – matters to be decided by the Court of Appeal
This is a significant test case, which will determine the standard of proof for two of the most significant conclusions which can be returned at an inquest, namely suicide and unlawful killing conclusions.
High court Decision
On 26 July 2018, Lord Justice Leggatt and Mr Justice Nicol sitting in the High Court changed the standard of proof for the conclusion of suicide to the balance of probabilities. Previously, it was understood that a conclusion of suicide had to be established to the criminal standard of proof.
The case arose following the death of James Maughan on 11 July 2016 at HMP Bullingdon. An inquest into his death was heard by the Coroner for Oxfordshire and a jury. The Coroner agreed that there was insufficient evidence that the deceased intended to kill himself and, accordingly, did not leave a short-form conclusion of suicide to the jury. He directed the jury to consider a number of questions as part of the narrative conclusion.
The jury returned a narrative conclusion, which in effect amounted to a conclusion of suicide on the balance of probabilities. James’s brother sought to challenge the inquest conclusion on the basis that the jury’s conclusion was unlawful, as it amounted to a conclusion of suicide reached on the balance of probabilities, rather than settled law which stated that the test should be based upon the criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt.
The Divisional court found that the standard of proof required for a conclusion of suicide, whether recorded in short-form or as a narrative statement, should be the balance of probabilities. It also implied that the same logic should apply to conclusions such as unlawful killing.
Basis for Permission to appeal
The Divisional Court immediately granted permission to appeal on the basis that:
The issue raised by this case as to the standard of proof in coroner’s proceedings is an important point of principle. As this court has departed from previous authority, it is desirable that the point should be decided by the Court of Appeal.
Najma Rasul solicitor representing the family said that:
The appeal is of great importance to our client and his family, who are of the Roman Catholic faith and have long campaigned for the suicide conclusion in respect of James’s death to be overturned. The legal issues to be decided by the Court of Appeal will not only have an impact upon our client but will have far reaching implications for tens of thousands of bereaved families, campaigners, coroners, and practitioners in this field. Further it will require revised guidance from the Chief Coroner and from Parliament to deal with the issues raised by the appeal.
Thomas Maughan, the elder brother of James said:
The family want justice for James and for all those unfortunate families who have lost a loved one in state custody. We are deeply concerned that the change in the law, requiring a finding of suicide or unlawful killing on the balance of probabilities at an inquest, will make it harder for those in power to be held accountable for their actions when someone dies on their watch.