Sunday, 8 July 2012

Mr Gardiner and Section 17A (2)

This is the text of Section 17A (2) of the Coroners Act 1988:

Where a coroner adjourns an inquest in compliance with subsection (1) above, he shall send to the registrar of deaths a certificate under his hand stating, so far as they have been ascertained at the date of the certificate, the particulars which under the 1953 Act are required to be registered concerning the death.

The phrase I have emphasised is particularly important in the case of Dr Kelly's death I believe.

It was the Ladbroke Grove rail crash on 5 October 1999 that led via the Cullen Inquiry to the first use of Section 17A of the Coroners Act 1988.  This was a very clear example of how sensible it was to use 17A: 31 people died violent, unnatural deaths and so legally there would need to be inquests.  I'm not sure how far the inquests progressed before Section 17A was invoked but it was clear that the "who, how, when and where" could be ascertained and therefore a coroner could adequately comply with clause 2 in 17A.  The big question that the Inquiry had to address was how on earth the two trains collided.

In the "Ladbroke Grove" type of scenario then it can be seen that a coroner is likely to be able to supply sufficient information for the registrar to complete the registration of the deaths.  This seems desirable to me, particularly as the deliberations of an inquiry can be protracted.  Back to my emphasis now and the words "so far as they have been ascertained at the date of the certificate".  It's clear to me that the legislation was correctly worded to show that on occasion the coroner wouldn't have all the necessary particulars.

The letter dated 12 August 2003 from Sarah Albon indicated that Mr Gardiner could briefly reconvene the inquest prior to adjourning under section 17A.  The identity of the deceased had been ascertained when Mr Gardiner originally opened the inquest on 21 July and this information is enough for an interim death certificate to be completed.  For a full certificate the "how, when and where" would also have to be addressed.

When Mr Gardiner reconvened he formally took into evidence Dr Hunt's final report of 25 July 2003 and the first report of toxicologist Dr Allan dated 21 July 2003.  He evidently accepted the mode of death without question based on these reports.  Although the body was found at Harrowdown Hill he failed to take steps in open court to try and confirm that that was the place where death occurred.  Dr Hunt's totally speculative conclusions about "self harm" were pointing towards a conclusion of suicide.  By accepting Dr Hunt's report without query it seems to me that Mr Gardiner was tacitly agreeing with Dr Hunt.

Mr Gardiner had been anticipating that he would hold the inquest in September.  However on 14 August, on the basis of two written reports only, he was able to furnish the registrar of deaths with enough particulars for the registration of death to be made.  It was patently absurd for Mr Gardiner to do this and, under the circumstances, there was no need to reconvene: an interim certificate could have been completed merely confirming the identity of the deceased. 

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