Case No : CO/685/2007
QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
MR JUSTICE COLLINS
MR JUSTICE SILBER
| Jean Paul and Gisele Paul and The Ritz Hotel Limited
|- and -
|Deputy Coroner of the Queen's Household and Assistant Deputy Coroner for Surrey (Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss)
|Mohamed Al Fayed
|- and -
|Deputy Coroner of the Queen's Household and Assistant Deputy Coroner for Surrey (Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss)
Mr Michael Beloff QC, Mr Thomas de la Mare and Ms Victoria Windle (instructed by Barlow Lyde & Gilbert) for The Ritz Hotel Limited
Mr Michael Mansfield QC, Ms Henrietta Hill and Mr Navtej Singh Ahluwalia (instructed by Lewis Silkin LLP) for Mr Mohamed Al Fayed
Mr Ian Burnett QC and Mr Jonathan Hough (instructed by Mr Michael Burgess, solicitor) for Lady Butler-Sloss
Mr Edmund Lawson QC (instructed by Naz Saleh) for The Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis
Hearing dates: 19/20 February 2007
Crown Copyright ©
Lady Justice Smith : This is the judgment of the Court
(i) the identity of those persons properly interested in the two inquests;
(ii) whether two separate inquests were to be held or concurrent inquests;
(iii) whether Lady Butler-Sloss had jurisdiction to act as the deputy coroner
of the Queen's household;
(iv) whether Lady Butler-Sloss should hold the inquests with or without a jury.
The First Issue - Jurisdiction.
"An Acte for murther and malicious bloodshed within the Courte."
The purpose behind the Act was to enable acts of violence at Court to be tried by a jury before the Lord Steward or another specified officer of the Court. The coroner to the household would, in the case of a death, hold the necessary inquest which would result in what would in recent years be termed a committal for trial. It is to be noted that the office of coroner to the royal house had existed before the Act of 1541, since section 22 of that Act records:
"And forasmuch as before His Time one Richard Staverton of Lincoln's Inn, Gentleman, was commanded and appointed by the King's Majesty to occupy the Office of the Coroner to his said House, by Force whereof he hath continued Officer in the same by the Space of sixteen years or more, Be it enacted that the said Richard Staverton shall have, occupy and enjoy the said Office of Coroner during his Life "
Thus it is clear that the Act was concerned to put the office on a statutory basis so that there would be a coroner available at all times to ensure that violent death within the Court could be properly investigated and those responsible brought to a speedy form of justice.
"29. Coroner of the Queen's household.
(1) The coroner of the Queen's household shall continue to be appointed by the Lord Steward for the time being of the Queen's household.
(2) The coroner of the Queen's household shall have exclusive jurisdiction in respect of inquests into the deaths of persons whose bodies are lying
(a) within the limits of the Queen's palaces; or
(b) within the limits of any other house where Her Majesty is then residing.
(3) The limits of any such palace or house shall be deemed to extend to any courts, gardens or other places within the curtilage of the palace or house but not further; and where a body is lying in any place beyond those limits, the coroner within whose district the body is lying, and not the coroner for the Queen's household, shall have jurisdiction to hold an inquest into the death.
(4) The jurors on an inquest held by the coroner of the Queen's household shall consist of officers of that household, to be returned by such officer of the Queen's household as may be directed to summon the jurors by the warrant of the coroner.
(5) All inquisitions, depositions and recognizances shall be delivered to the Lord Steward of the Queen's household to be filed among the records of his office.
(6) The coroner of the Queen's household
(a) shall make his declaration of office before the Lord Steward of the Queen's household; and
(b) shall reside in one of the Queen's palaces or in such other convenient place as may from time to time be allowed by the Lord Steward of the Queen's household.
(7) The provisions of Schedule 2 to this Act shall have effect with respect to the application of this Act and the law relating to coroners to the coroner of the Queen's household."
Schedule 2 disapplies the provisions of the Act which cover the appointment of other coroners. In addition section 5 which deals with the jurisdiction of coroners is excluded. It provides:
"(1) Subject to subsection (3) [which gives powers to act for another coroner in a district within the same administrative area where that other coroner is ill, incapacitated, or absent or there is a vacancy] and section 7 [which deals with deputies] and 13 to 15 below, an inquest into a death shall be held only by the coroner within whose district the body lies.
(2) a coroner shall hold an inquest only within his district."
In addition, the powers to appoint deputies and their functions are to have the necessary modifications required by the terms of section 29. Provisions relating to juries are excluded following section 29(4). Paragraph 5 is important. It reads:
"Subject to the provisions of this Schedule and Section 29 of this Act, the coroner of the Queen's household shall, within the limits laid down in subsection (3) of that section
(a) have the same jurisdiction and powers; and(b) be subject to the same obligations, liabilities and disqualifications; and(c) generally be subject to the provisions of this Act and the law relating to coroners in the same manner as any other coroner."
"(1) if it appears to a coroner that, in the case of a body lying within his district, an inquest ought to be held into the death but it is expedient that the inquest should be held by some other coroner, he may request that coroner to assume jurisdiction to hold the inquest, and if that coroner agrees he, and not the coroner within whose district the body is lying, shall have jurisdiction to hold the inquest.
(4) Where jurisdiction to hold an inquest is assumed under this section, it shall not be necessary to remove the body into the district of the coroner who is to hold the inquest.
(7) On the assumption by a coroner of jurisdiction to hold an inquest under this section, the coroner
(a) shall also assume, in relation to the body and the inquest, all the powers and duties which would belong to him if the body were lying within his district and
(b) may exercise those powers notwithstanding that the body remains outside his district or, having been removed into it, is removed out of it by virtue of any order of his for its examination or burial."
Subsection (7) enables a coroner to whom jurisdiction has been transferred under section 14 to use that section to make a further transfer if that is considered expedient.
"Where a coroner is informed that the body of a person (the deceased) is lying within his district and there is reasonable cause to suspect that the deceased
(a) has died a violent or an unnatural death;(b) has died a sudden death of which the cause is unknown; or(c) has died in prison or in such a place or in such circumstances as to require an inquest under any other Act, then, whether the cause of death arose within the district or not, the coroner shall as soon as practicable hold an inquest into the death of the deceased with or, subject to subsection (3) below, without a jury."
If, by virtue of the limitation to a body lying within his district, that duty cannot be said to apply to the coroner of the Queen's household, there is precious little left of the obligations, jurisdiction or powers or any provisions of the Act which could apply in accordance with Paragraph 5 of Schedule 2. It seems to us that to adopt such a narrow construction of the reference to district would be contrary to the intention of Parliament. It was, in our view, contemplated that, subject to the express exclusions, the provisions of the Act which laid down the powers and the obligations of coroners should apply equally to the coroner of the Queen's household. While we recognise that the word 'district' does not easily, in its natural meaning, fit in with what was referred to before us as the topographical limit to the jurisdiction of the coroner of the Queen's household, to construe it as the claimants would wish would be to produce an absurd situation. We were not impressed with the submission of Mr Beloff QC (who appeared for the President of the Ritz Hotel), that, since the office of coroner of the Queen's household itself was an anomaly and there were very few calls on him, the administrative difficulties were not of any real significance.
"The coroner of the Queen's household shall have exclusive jurisdiction in respect of inquests on persons whose bodies are lying within the limits of any of the Queen's palaces or within the limits of any other house where Her Majesty is then demurrant and abiding in her own royal person, notwithstanding the subsequent removal of Her Majesty from such palace or house."
This could be construed to mean that the jurisdiction only applied to a palace or house in which at the material time Her Majesty was 'demurrant and abiding'. This gave rise to some concern whether the coroner of the Queen's household ought to have assumed jurisdiction to deal with the death resulting from the fire at Hampton Court (at which Her Majesty was not then nor has ever been 'demurrant and abiding'). The terms of section 29(2) of the 1988 Act clear up that ambiguity.
"When a coroner is informed that the dead body of a person is lying within his jurisdiction "
Section 6 (now section 13 of the 1988 Act) provided by subsection (2) that the court might order that the inquest it directed should be held 'either by the said coroner, or if the said coroner is a coroner for a county, by any other coroner for the county, or if he is a coroner for a borough or for a franchise then by a coroner for the county in which such borough or franchise is situated, or for a county to which it adjoins '
The coroner of the Queen's household was a coroner for a franchise see section 29(8) and section 42. Section 42 also stated:
"the expression 'franchise' means the area within which the franchise coroner exercises jurisdiction."
"If it appears to a coroner that an inquest ought to be held on a body lying within his area ."
Section 3(4) of the Act, reads:
"At the beginning of section 7(1) of the Coroners Act 1887 (jurisdiction of a coroner dependent on the presence of the body in his area) there shall be inserted [some words which are not material].
Section 7(1) of the 1887 Act in fact uses the word 'jurisdiction', not area, but the draftsman of the 1980 Act clearly thought that there was no difference, since the jurisdiction was limited to an area, whether of a franchise or a county or a borough.
The Second Issue Should the Coroner sit with a Jury?
"(3) If it appears to a coroner, either before he proceeds to hold an inquest or in the course of an inquest begun without a jury, that there is reason to suspect .;
(d) that the death occurred in circumstances the continuance or possible recurrence of which is prejudicial to the health or safety of the public or any section of the public,
he shall proceed to summon a jury "
(a) Lord Denning MR, which was that a jury must be summoned when"the circumstances are such that similar fatalities may possibly occur in the future, and it is reasonable to expect that some action should be taken to prevent their recurrence" (page 226);
(b) Bridge LJ, who said that the recurrence of the circumstances referred to are those which"may reasonably and ought properly to be avoided by the taking of appropriate steps which it is in the power of some responsible body to take" (page 227);and
(c) Sir David Cairns, who explained that
"The difficulty is to find a meaning which does not do violence to the words of the Act and which gives effect to what may be taken to have been the intention of Parliament. The reference to 'continuance or possible recurrence' indicates to my mind that the provision was intended to apply only to circumstances the continuance or recurrence of which was preventable or to some extent controllable. Moreover, since it is prejudice to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public that is referred to, what is envisaged must I think be something which might be prevented or safeguarded by a public authority or some other person or body whose activities can be said to affect a substantial section of the public. I cannot find any justification for any further limitation of the meaning of the paragraph in question." (page 228)
We do not understand the basis for the statement that the activities must affect 'a substantial section of the public' as the statute does not include that requirement.
"any particular feature which distinguishes it from any other kind of road accident to the circumstances of which courts, time and time again, have to listen in order to reach a determination be it in criminal or civil proceedings." (per Watkins LJ at page 62).
"The couple came out at about 9.45 in the evening. Although we had come to an agreement with the paparazzi they did not do what we had asked them. They came closer to the car than expected, although they did not rush forward as they had done when the couple arrived. But when the couple's car drove off they went completely crazy. They called their motor bikes and set off like lunatics to follow the car. They could have knocked pedestrians over on the pavement. People had to press themselves against the wall to let the paparazzi's motor bikes past, they were driving on the pavement ."
The Third Issue Should the Coroner have chosen to act as the Coroner of the Queen's Household?
The Final Issue Has Lady Butler-Sloss's Independence and Impartiality been compromised?