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Inquest Conclusions of Suicide

An Inquest is a fact-finding procedure conducted by a Coroner following a death which is sudden, violent or unnatural. Additionally, Inquests are held where there has been a death in state custody or where the cause of death is unknown. Suicide is one of the potential conclusions that can be reached at an Inquest when considering how a death occurred. A conclusion of suicide requires a finding on the evidence that the deceased carried out their actions with the intention of taking their own life.

On 10 May 2019 the Court of Appeal handed down judgment on a case which engaged the issue of whether such a finding on the evidence was required on i) the criminal standard of proof or ii) the civil standard of proof.

The first of these would require a Coroner or Inquest Jury to be satisfied on the evidence that it is beyond reasonable doubt that the deceased intended to take his or her own life. The second would require that they are satisfied, after hearing the evidence, that it is more probable than not that the deceased intended to take his or her own life.

It had previously been commonly understood and accepted that the criminal standard of proof applied to an Inquest conclusion of suicide, as it also does to a conclusion of unlawful killing. However, the case of R(Maughan) v Senior Coroner for Oxford [2018] EWHC brought scrutiny to this previous understanding of Coronial law.

In July 2018 this judgment of the Administrative Court stated that the civil standard of proof should apply in all Inquests which raise the issue of suicide. What that means is that all Inquests considering how a self-inflicted death occurred must decide whether it is more probable than not that the deceased intended to take his or her own life. This is important because of the obvious difficulty in fully understanding the state of mind of the deceased at the time.

The claimant in R(Maughan) v Senior Coroner for Oxford appealed this decision of the Administrative Court to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal have now upheld the previous decision of the Administrative Court regarding the applicability of the civil standard of proof to conclusions of suicide. There has therefore been a considerable change in this aspect of coronial law which is likely to affect large numbers of Inquests dealing with self-inflicted deaths.

Inquest proceedings following the death of a family member can be a confusing and distressing experience. If you would like advice, our lawyers may be able to assist you. If you are financially eligible, it may also be possible to obtain legal aid. To find out more, please call us on 020 3131 8515 or make an enquiry online.

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