Clause 10

– in a Public Bill Committee at 6:15 pm on 10th February 2009.

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Determinations and findings to be made

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice)

Clause 10 is about determinations and findings. For what I am slightly concerned about, look at subsection (2), which says that determinations cannot allude to any criminal or civil liability. In fact, what clause 10(2) does is to enshrine in primary legislation rule 42 of the Coroners Rules 1984. Could the Minister confirm that I am right on that?

Has the Minister seen what Inquest said about clause 10(2)? When the words in subsection (2) were in the secondary legislation—the same words as in rule 42—it was held on a number of occasions that they could not defeat the purpose to ascertain how the deceased came by their death, which is contained in section 11 of the current Coroners Act 1988. Thus, an unlawful killing or a neglect verdict could be returned, both of which would, by definition, appear to determine a question of civil liability. As presently drafted, those verdicts could be prevented by clause 10, moreover there continues to be a debate in the courts about whether the wording of an article 2-compliant inquest can contain judgmental words, such as “serious” or “unreasonable”. I do not want to delay the Committee’s proceedings, because we have clause 11 to come to this evening—probably the most important clause in this part of the Bill—but could the Minister put my mind at rest, and the concerns of Inquest?

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice

I am not sure that I shall necessarily be capable of putting the mind of Inquest at rest, but I shall do my best as far as the hon. Gentleman is concerned.

As I have repeatedly said throughout the debates, coroners’ inquests are findings of fact—who the deceased was, how, where and when he or she died, and any particulars required to allow that death to be registered. In some circumstances, it might also cover the circumstances by which the deceased came by his death. The most important thing is that all those determinations have to be framed in such a way that they do not appear to determine the question of criminal liability on the part of a named person, or of civil liability. It is not the job of the coroner’s inquest to apportion blame or to decide matters of legal liability. That is for the criminal and civil courts. In order to ensure that the distinction between the functions of the different courts remains crystal clear, the outcomes of any coroner’s investigations have to be framed in the way in which they are in clause 10.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 10 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.