Susan Jones reports on new ruling for conclusion of suicide at inquests

3PB barrister and inquests specialist Susan Jones – who did a six-month secondment with the Inquest Team at London offices of Capsticks in 2015/2016 * – below reviews High Court judgment in R (Maughan) v HM Senior Coroner for Oxfordshire [2018] EWHC setting out that at an inquest, the balance of probabilities is the standard of proof required for a short form or narrative suicide conclusion.

Lord Justice Leggatt giving the judgment of the Court considered the nature and function of modern coronial proceedings to have no relationship or analogy with criminal proceedings which would justify applying the criminal standard.

Since the function of an inquest is to determine relevant facts concerning death without determining even any question of civil liability, there is no justification for weighting the fact-finding exercise against any particular conclusion requiring proof to any higher standard than the balance of probabilities.

Reviewing the common law, early decisions show suicide is not to be presumed but must be proved by evidence. The Court in this Oxfordshire Coroners case concluded that the views expressed by the Divisional Court in ex parte Gray [1988] (and Lagos [2013] (decided principally on the authority of Gray) that suicide must be proved to the criminal standard were wrong: based on a misreading of an earlier decision and made without reference to the rules that, where a question in civil proceedings is raised as to whether a criminal offence has been committed, the civil standard is applicable.

* Susan’s secondment with Capsticks has just been reported about in the August 2018 issue of Counsel magazine and full details can be read by clicking on the link:

https://www.counselmagazine.co.uk/articles/secondments-still-the-new-junior-briefs