What is an inquest?
When someone dies, and there is suspicion that their death has resulted from something other than natural causes, a coroner may decide to hold a formal enquiry into their death.
This is called an inquest. The purpose of an inquest is to establish who the deceased was and how and when they died.
If there is a suspicion that the death was caused as a result of the state breaching its duty to protect the deceased from a human threat or other risk, Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights may be engaged. For example, Article 2 can be engaged where the deceased’s death took place in police custody. However, there are also other instances where Article 2 can be engaged, such as a systems failure or where there is concern about the existence of a real and immediate risk to life.
Article 2 and Hospital Negligence
At Shoosmiths, we can help our clinical negligence clients with the Inquest process.
In a recent case that we were instructed on, the deceased was a hospital inpatient after he had made an attempt on his life. Whilst in hospital he was treated for his physical problems and his mental health was assessed. It was decided that he could be discharged. Unfortunately, before he was discharged, the deceased gained access to a hospital balcony, through an unlocked door, and fell to his death.
This type of incident does not necessarily result in Article 2 being automatically engaged during the inquest process. However, in this instance we were able to successfully argue, on behalf of our client, that Article 2 should be engaged on the basis that the death was caused by a systemic failure on behalf of the trust to keep the deceased safe. The coroner agreed for the following reasons:
- It was very clear that the balcony in question was a restricted area that carried a risk of accident/self-harm and the risk would only be mitigated if the door had been locked.There was no standard operation procedure or policy in place regarding keeping the door locked.This was not reconsidered even after the issue had been highlighted in a Care Quality Commision (CQC) inspection.There was uncertainty in staff evidence regarding the balcony keys and the use of the balcony.
As such, the deceased was able to access the balcony, when he should not have been, which sadly led to his death.
Article 2 and Compensatory Awards
When Article 2 is engaged at inquests, pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages can be claimed under the Human Rights Act. The time limit for a Human Rights Act claim is one year from the date of the violation (date of death) but under section 7(5)(b), that time limit may be extended to “such longer period as the court or tribunal considers equitable having regard to all the circumstances”.
Danielle Pritchett, Associate Solicitor at Shoosmiths’ Thames Valley office, based in Reading, comments:
“This was a very sad case. The trust disputed that Article 2 of the Human Rights Act was applicable throughout the inquest process. Due to Covid-19 related delays, the one-year deadline to bring a Human Rights Act claim had passed by the time the inquest had concluded. However, I was able to obtain an extension to that time period to enable our client to bring a claim under the Human Rights Act. This now adds further compensatory benefit to our client’s claim,, arising from this very distressing loss.”
This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2023