A tempering of Chief Coroner’s Guidance No.37?

8th July 2020

To those of you that attended my inquest update webinar on 11 May 2020 (watch here), you will recall that I spoke at length about the controversy caused by Chief Coroner’s Guidance No. 37, which was believed by some, to place restrictions on the ability of a Coroner to investigate deaths resulting from possible failings in the provision of PPE during the Covid-19 pandemic.  Whether Mark Lucraft QC intended the guidance to be construed in this way or not, some 2 months or so later he has amended that guidance to make it clear that the scope of inquiry is a matter for the judgment of coroners and not something to be governed by hard and fast rules.

A link to the amended guidance dated 1 July 2020 is provided here.

Whether in time, such issues around provision of PPE become the subject of a public inquiry is unclear but for now the amended guidance does not close the door to consideration of such issues within the inquest domain.  Practitioners should however be mindful of the fact that when handling inquests in which questions such as the adequacy of personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff are raised, Coroners have been firmly reminded that the focus of their investigation should be on the cause(s) and circumstance(s) of the death in question.  Coroners are entitled to look into any underlying causes of death, including failures of systems or procedures at any level, but the investigation should remain an inquiry about the particular death.

If the coroner considers that a proper investigation into the death requires that evidence or material be obtained in relation to matters of policy and resourcing (e.g. the adequacy of provision of PPE for clinicians in a particular hospital or department), he or she may choose to suspend the investigation until it becomes clear how such enquiries can best be pursued.

Emma is a vastly experienced inquest advocate with extensive experience in complex inquests, mostly heard before a jury and engaging Article 2 of the ECHR.  If you have any questions around the issues raised in this article or the amended guidance Emma will be happy to assist you.