A new form of Inquest?
The current pandemic has severely disrupted the vast majority of legal proceedings across the U.K and Inquests are no exception. On 11 June 2020, the Chief Coroner of England and Wales, HHJ Mark Lucraft QC issued new guidance, Guidance No 38 entitled – ‘Remote participation in coronial proceedings via video and audio broadcast.’ The purpose of the new guidance is to provide some clarity about how coronial proceedings can be lawfully conducted in the prevailing circumstances and partially remote hearings are clearly a necessary response given the current impediments to conducting Inquests in the ordinary manner.
A fundamental principle underpinning the justice system in the United Kingdom is the requirement for open justice. The Coroners (Inquests) Rules 2013 (Rule 11) provides that inquests and pre-inquest hearings must be held in public. Open justice encompasses the requirement that the public are properly able to access the proceedings. How can partially remote Inquests be compatible with the principle of open justice?
It is well known that the taking of photographs, including screenshots, video recordings or broadcasts of hearings, including filming, in any court of justice in England and Wales is prohibited under s41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 which is applicable to Coroner’s Courts. This was recently affirmed by the Court in the case of R (Spurrier) v Secretary of State for Transport  EWHC 528 (Admin.) Similarly, Section 9 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 prohibits the use of any tape recorder or other sound recording instrument in a court, except where expressly permitted by the court.
Coroners can therefore conduct a partially remote Inquest. If this is proposed, interested persons will be afforded the opportunity make representation which the Coroner is duty bound to consider in conjunction with an interests of justice test. The Coroner is also obliged to set out his/her decision and reasoning to the parties in writing.
We should expect to see a growing number of partially remote Inquests in the coming months and it will be interesting to see whether this is simply a temporary phenomenon or heralds a new approach to conducting Coronial proceedings in the longer term.
This briefing is for guidance purposes only. RadcliffesLeBrasseur LLP accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken or not taken in relation to this note and recommends that appropriate legal advice be taken having regard to a client's own particular circumstances.