QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
B e f o r e :
MR JUSTICE BEAN
|PAUL ANTHONY HOWLETT||(CLAIMANT)|
|HM CORONER FOR THE COUNTY OF DEVON||(DEFENDANT)|
|MR AND MRS HOLCROFT||(THE INTERESTED PARTY)|
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The Respondent did not appear and was not represented
MISS A GERRY (instructed by Bhatt Murphy, London N1 6NN) appeared on behalf of the Interested Party, Mr and Mrs Holcroft
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"(1) This section applies where, on an application by or under the authority of the Attorney -General, the High Court is satisfied as respects a coroner ("the coroner concerned")either -
(b) where an inquest has been held by him, that (whether by reason of fraud, rejection of evidence, irregularity of proceedings, insufficiency of inquiry, the discovery of new facts or evidence or otherwise) it is necessary or desirable in the interests of justice that another inquest should be held."
"The important point to make is that open verdicts are to be discouraged, save where strictly necessary."
In the following paragraph he emphasised that:
"an open verdict should only be used as a last resort, notably when the coroner is simply unable to reach any conclusion on the balance of probabilities as between two competing verdicts."
"(1) Subject to the provisions of paragraphs (2) to (4), the Coroner my admit at an inquest documentary evidence relevant to the purposes of the inquest and from any living person which in his opinion is unlikely to be disputed, unless a person who in the opinion of the coroner is within Rule 20(2) objects to the documentary evidence being admitted.
(2) Documentary evidence so objected to may be admitted if in the opinion of the coroner the maker of the document is unable to give oral evidence within a reasonable period.
(3) Subject to paragraph (4), before admitting such documentary evidence the coroner shall at the beginning of the Inquest announce publicly -
(a) that the documentary evidence may be admitted, and(b (i) the full name of the maker of the document to be admitted in evidence(ii) a brief account of such document and(c) that any person who in the opinion of the coroner is within Rule 20(2) may object to the admission of any such documentary evidence, and(d) that any person who in the opinion of the coroner is within Rule 20(2) is entitled to see a copy of any such documentary evidence, if he so wishes."
"In the present case, the Coroner has not been represented in opposition to the claimant's application, but neither has he indicated any willingness to submit to a consent order. Indeed, he has not accepted that any of the claimant's complaints about his conduct are justified in any way. Following the authorities to which I have referred above, there may well be cases where the coroner, having assisted the court with affidavit evidence as to the facts as appropriate, is content not to be represented, but to stand back and to abide by the court's decision on some disputed point of law or procedure. In such circumstances, it is most unlikely that an award of costs against the coroner would be appropriate. But in the present case, far from seeking to assist the court, the Coroner failed to make any response to the judicial review proceedings served on him on 6th November 2000 until his letter dated 6th February 2001. That letter did not give any indication as to whether he proposed to file evidence, or whether he opposed the application for judicial review, and if so, upon what grounds."
Four lines up from the end of that paragraph this observation of his letter is made:
"In effect, the Coroner was seeking, through the vehicle of his "observations", to resist the application although he did not propose to be represented. I regret to have to say that the Coroner's attitude to the claimant's application in the court mirrors his approach to the claimant both before, and during the inquest. His conduct does therefore call for "strong disapproval".
Lest this conclusion be thought to be unduly harsh, this is a case for the reasons set out above, "the inquest did not do the job of an inquest." The Coroner did not stand aside and adopt a neutral position. He sought through the belated submission of his "observations" to defend the claim made against him. Applying the dicta in the cases to which I have referred, I am satisfied even if "strong disapproval" is not warranted it would be be appropriate to award costs in these circumstances."