26 Feb Landmark Hearing On Standard Of Proof In Suicide And Unlawful Killing Inquest Conclusions in the Supreme Court 26 & 27 February
The Maughan hearing will be live-streamed from court room 2, you can access the broadcast from here:
On 26 and 27 February 2020 the Supreme Court will decide what is the standard of proof for finding a short form and narrative conclusion of suicide. The court has also been invited to make a decision on whether or not the standard of proof for unlawful killing conclusions should be reduced to the civil standard of proof.
The case arises from the inquest into the death of the appellant’s younger brother James Maughan who died aged 33 at HMP Bullingdon, with the jury finding that he had deliberately applied a ligature and that ‘on the balance of probabilities, it is more likely than not that he intended to fatally hang himself that night’.
The appeal challenges directions to the jury which lead to a suicide conclusion based on the civil standard of proof. The appeal argues it is settled law that the criminal standard of proof applies (you had to be sure that the deceased had intended to take his own life beyond reasonable doubt). The full background is set out further below under ‘Facts of the Case’.
Najma Rasul, solicitor acting for the Maughan family said,
“This case is of critical importance not only to the Maughan family, but for thousands of bereaved families, campaigners, and practitioners seeking accountability for deaths in state institutions. This will impact upon deaths in prisons, immigration detention centres, private nursing homes and mental health hospitals. There is a real danger that with a lower standard of proof ‘cries for help’ will be found as an intention to end one’s life, without considering all the circumstances leading up to the death and with no opportunity for lessons to be learned.”
In relation to the dire financial consequences that a suicide conclusion can bring, Najma Rasul, went on to say said,
“ A lower standard of proof for suicide conclusions may lead to severe financial consequences for bereaved families and loved ones, since often a life insurance contract or a death in service benefit from a company will not be paid out.”
In relation to the funding of inquests, Najma Rasul added,
“Bereaved families already have limited rights at an inquest, most often without public funding for legal representation. Without funding and legal representation it will be difficult for most bereaved families to challenge presumptions in favour of finding a suicide conclusion. The appellant and his mother were not legally represented at the inquest into James’s death. This case highlights the need for public funding for inquests.”
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”.
Legal issues in case
The Supreme Court will now decide what is the standard of proof for suicide and unlawful killing conclusions at the end of inquest proceedings in Coroners courts to the short form and narrative conclusions of suicide. The court has also been invited to make a decision on whether or not the standard of proof for unlawful killing conclusions should be reduced to the civil standard of proof.
The Supreme Court will consider the legal, practical and policy reasons on whether the criminal standard ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ or the civil standard ‘on the balance of probabilities’ should apply to suicide and unlawful killing conclusions, two of the most significant conclusions that can be returned at an inquest.
In earlier hearings both the Divisional Court and the Court of Appeal decided that the civil standard of proof should apply to a suicide conclusion whether expressed in short form or narrative. They believe there is a powerful case for the civil standard of proof to apply to unlawful killing conclusions as a matter of principle and practicality.
It is the Appellant’s case that the criminal standard should apply to both suicide and unlawful killing conclusions. The Respondent, HM Senior Coroner for Oxfordshire, has adopted a neutral position in the proceedings.
The Chief Coroner for England and Wales and INQUEST have been granted permission to intervene in the case.
The issues raised by this appeal will have a significant impact upon Coroner courts, practitioners, bereaved families, interested parties, campaigners. It will also impact the national government statistics on the number of deaths recorded as suicide and unlawful killing, and so influence future policy and public funding decisions on local and national mental health services.
The Chief Coroner will require revised guidance from Parliament in light of the Court’s decision.
The Queen (on the Application of Maughan) v HM Senior Coroner for Oxfordshire case No: C1/2018/1962
26 and 27 February 2020 at the Supreme Court
Live Streaming of the Maughan
All proceedings in the Supreme Court are now live-streamed to increase open justice and improve public access and understanding of the justice system. The Maughan case will be live streamed by the Supreme Court from court room 2 at the following times:
- Wednesday 26 February 2020 – Morning 10.30hrs until 13.00hrs
- Wednesday 26 February 2020 – Afternoon 14.00hrs – 16.30hrs
- Thursday 27 February 2020 – Morning 10.30hrs until 13.00hrs
The live-streamed broadcast of the Maughan hearing will be accessible from the Supreme Court website here:
The video will also be accessible from the Supreme Court website after the hearing.
Karon Monaghan QC from Matrix Chambers and Jude Bunting from Doughty Street Chambers (instructed by Ms Najma Rasul of Matthew Gold & Co Ltd Solicitors to represent the Appellant, Mr Thomas Maughan)
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)
The Chief Coroner for England provides national guidance, advice and training for coroners across the country.
INQUEST, a national charity providing expertise on state related deaths and their investigation to bereaved people, lawyers, advice and support agencies, the media and parliamentarians.
Facts of the case
The case arose following the inquest into the death of the appellant’s younger brother James Maughan who died aged 33 at HMP Bullingdon.
James had a history of mental health problems, substance misuse, suicide and self-harm attempts, and symptoms consistent with a personality disorder. On 11 July 2016, James was found hanging from a ligature in his cell and was confirmed dead.
An inquest into James’s death was held by the Coroner for Oxfordshire with a jury over 4 days from 9 – 12 October 2017. A central issue at the inquest was whether prison staff had properly followed procedures for preventing suicide and self harm, having regard to the mental health condition of James. In particular whether an Assessment, Care in Custody and Teamwork (ACCT) document should have been opened, possibly leading to more regular observations or cell sharing.
At the end of the evidence, the Coroner agreed that there was not enough evidence for the jury to safely return a suicide conclusion that James had intended to kill himself beyond reasonable doubt (rather than, for example, he may have made a ‘cry for help’). The Coroner therefore directed the jury to consider a number of questions as part of the narrative conclusion. The jury’s narrative included a finding that James had deliberately applied a ligature and that ‘on the balance of probabilities, it is more likely than not that he intended to fatally hang himself that night’.
The appellant sought to challenge the inquest conclusion on the basis that the Respondent had misdirected the jury when directing it to consider whether or not James had intended to hang himself on the balance of probabilities, which in effect amounted to a suicide conclusion on the balance of probabilities. The correct standard of proof for finding a suicide conclusion was the criminal standard of proof i.e you had to be sure that the deceased had intended to take his own life beyond reasonable doubt, which was settled law.
On 12 July 2018 the Divisional court found that the standard of proof required for a conclusion of suicide, whether recorded in short-form or as a narrative conclusion, should be the balance of probabilities. The Divisional court also implied that the same logic should apply to unlawful killing conclusions. When handing down judgment, the Divisional Court granted the appellant permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal.
On 10 May 2019 the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the Divisional Court, but held that, in cases where unlawful killing arises as an issue, the criminal standard of proof should apply. When handing down the judgment, the Court of Appeal granted the appellant permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Media enquiries to:
Tel: 0208 4459268
Najma Rasul solicitor with conduct of the case, however is unable to take calls during court hours – mobile contact number: 07974937606