Eleventh hour challenge to an inquest disclosure decision refused

Burke-Monerville v HM Senior Coroner of Inner North London, application for urgent relief, High Court: Fri 8 July

The trend of recent decisions in the High Court has been a general reluctance to hear challenges to coroners’ procedural decisions prior to the end of an inquest. Whether the proceedings have or have not been substantively or procedurally unfair is an issue that is best determined after the end of the hearing when the totality of the proceedings and the evidence can be considered.

It is unsurprising therefore that this urgent application for an injunction seeking to prevent an inquest going ahead on a Monday morning was refused in an extempore decision delivered at midnight on Friday.

You can read the judgement here.

The deceased was the innocent victim of a gang killing in 2013. After failings in the prosecution process the three men charged with his murder were formally acquitted and so it fell to the Senior Coroner to investigate his death.

The family’s application for the coroner to sit with a jury had been refused at an earlier PIH. The coroner had held that section 7(2)(b) CJA 2009 did not apply as there was no reason to suspect the death resulted from the act or omission of a police officer. The deceased had been killed in a wholly unprovoked attack, very probably because of mistaken identity as a member of an opposing gang. The family sought to rely upon the fact of a local non-fatal shooting some six weeks earlier. Police statements, however, indicated that the police were extremely active in attempting to prevent gun crime and had no specific intelligence that might have prevented this particular shooting.

When the family wrote and asked the coroner to provide further disclosure from the Metropolitan Police including intelligence reports; minutes of the police Gang Unit meetings; and Operation Trident material in respect of a police operation in December 2012 and to call a senior police officer to give evidence about the policing, she held a third PIH on 6 July 2016. The inquest was by then listed for Monday 11 July.

When this disclosure application was refused by the coroner an urgent application for an injunction was issued in the High Court seeking to prevent the inquest from commencing until after the outcome of an application for judicial review of the disclosure decision. Mr Justice Davis refused this telephone application at midnight on Friday 8 July. He held that there was no sensible prospect of the decision of the Senior Coroner being found to have been unreasonable.

The critical question for the Senior Coroner was whether the material concerned was relevant. The inquest cannot be a route for the family to air their real and wholly genuine grievances. That the family feel that material was being withheld from them cannot make that material relevant.

This was not an Article 2 Inquest and there was no clear allegation that a lack of police care had led to the death. The core of the submission was that armed individuals were able to act with impunity despite a high degree of police monitoring. The question the family wished to explore at the inquest was whether the police were in a position to put measures in place to prevent the shooting. If there were some real prospect of showing that the shooting might have been due to some failure on the part of the police, the material would be of relevance. However there was nothing in the primary material which provided any support for that proposition. The family’s case involved a degree of speculation.

It could not sensibly be argued that the investigation into the circumstances in which the deceased came to be shot would be informed by the detail of police gang operations. It follows that the decision of the Senior Coroner could not be impugned on its substance.

Furthermore, there had been no procedural unfairness in how the decision had been reached. The Senior Coroner had come to her decision after hearing full submissions. That her decision was now questioned in relation to its substance did not render it, or the inquest, procedurally unfair.

As the judge emphasised, his decision did not prevent the family from pursuing an application for permission to apply for judicial review, but any such application would have to follow the event.


The editors are grateful to Karen Harrold for providing additional material about the background to this case