Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Hillsborough: What is the truth? - Unprecedented new inquests in prospect

The Home Secretary's statement to the House of Commons on 22nd October, House of Commons Hansard for 22 October 2012 (pt 0002), includes the following comments about the possibility of the Dr. Popper inquests being quashed and the nature of the potential new inquests on those who died as a result of the Hillsborough disaster:

The bereaved families have long considered the original inquest to have been inadequate, and the Hillsborough independent panel has pointed to significant flaws. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has studied the panel’s report in detail and looked at the disclosed material and the previous requests for new inquests that were declined by his predecessors. He has confirmed that he will apply to the High Court for the original inquest to be quashed and a new one ordered.

Right hon. and hon. Members will know that it is for the High Court and not for Government to make the final decision, and that we must be careful not to pre-judge the Court’s consideration. Should the Court agree a new inquest, I have asked the chairman of the Hillsborough independent panel, the Bishop of Liverpool, to work with the new chief coroner to ensure that arrangements are put in place in which the families are central, and to ensure that the new inquest is run in a way that reflects the dignity and respect that the families have themselves so consistently demonstrated. I have also asked the Bishop of Liverpool to act as my adviser more generally on Hillsborough-related matters, and he has agreed to do so.
The second quoted paragraph indicates that the process of agreeing what nature a prospective new inquest (more precisely multiple inquests) may have is likely to be unprecedented.

Having a person who is not an "interested person" have a role in the parameters of an inquest is, so far as I'm aware, unprecedented.

The proposed arrangment seems broadly sensible but what is its basis in Law?

It may, also, be the first time that the recently appointed Chief Coroner, Judge Peter Thornton, has taken an active role in defining the parameters of an inquest.

Given that the office of Chief Coroner has been somewhat emasculated I'm not entirely clear on the basis in Law of the role proposed by the Home Secretary.

Further, the question of whether the Home Secretary has powers to "ensure" that an inquest is conducted in any particular way is a moot point, I think.

The wider question of how any such precedents may apply to other inquests also needs to be considered.

If the Hillsborough families are, hypothetically, to have their expenses paid why should that not also apply to other families in respect of the death of their loved one?

1 comment:

  1. Re the last paragraph and the fact that hypothetically the Hillsborough families might have their expenses paid ... this reminded me of an oddity at the Hutton Inquiry (which of course wasn't an inquest).

    The first paragraph in a Press Notice dated 28 July 2003 stated:

    'Lord Hutton had a meeting with Mrs Kelly, the widow of Dr David Kelly, in her home on Saturday morning, 26th July. The meeting took place at Lord Hutton's request. At the meeting he told Mrs Kelly that the Inquiry would meet any legal costs which she might incur in relation to it.'