Thursday 20 December 2012

Hillsborough Disaster ~ New inquest to be held

Update:  The judgment of the court quashing all the inquest verdicts - Her Majesty' Attorney-General v HM Coroner for South Yorkshire (West) and HM Coroner for West Yorkshire (West)  [2012] EWHC 3783 Admin  - Lord Judge LCJ, Burnett LJ and HHJ Peter Thornton QC (Chief Coroner)


Following the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report, the Attorney-General applied to the High Court for a new inquest to be ordered into the deaths arising from the Hillsborough disaster of April 1989 - BBC 19th December 2012.  The High Court sat with Lord Judge CJ presiding and quashed the earlier inquest verdicts and ordered a new inquest.  Their legal power to do this is in the Coroners Act 1988 section 13.

The Home Office has announced a fresh Police investigation    Former Durham Chief Constable Jon Stoddart will lead the new inquiry, which will focus specifically on the 96 deaths of Liverpool fans at the FA Cup semi-final in 1989. Mr Stoddart will be able to recruit investigators and staff to his team, but he will not be allowed to employ officers or former officers with any prior connection to the Hillsborough Disaster, nor those who have worked in West Midlands, South Yorkshire or Merseyside police forces.  He will be required to work closely with the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation and pass any findings of misconduct against officers to IPCC investigators to ensure the police are not being investigated by the police.

In addition
to announcing the new investigation, the Home Secretary also revealed a Liaison Board will be established to bring together all organisations working to deliver justice for the Hillsborough families. It will help meet the government's pledge to deliver swift results by ensuring work and information is shared.

Further scrutiny of the investigations will be performed by an Independent Challenge Panel to be established by the IPCC and the Director of Public Prosecutions. It will include independent experts nominated by family organisations and will also provide scrutiny of the Crown Prosecution Service's role in the investigations.

A body appointed to scrutinise the role of the Crown Prosecution Service is an interesting development.  The lawyer naturally questions the remit of such a body and what are its legal powers (if any).  At the time of writing, there is little further detail available beyond the Home Office Press release.  See the DPP's statement of 12th October.   IPCC statement of 12th October.

It is likely to be some time before the new inquest is actually held and the actual verdicts (or determinations)  of the new inquest will depend on the evidence presented to that inquest.  The likelihood is that a High Court Judge (or other senior judicial figure) - whether serving or retired - will be appointed to preside at the inquest.  Any new inquest will take place around the time that changes to the law of inquests is coming about due to implementation of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.

Chief Coroner and Updating the system - Law and Lawyers 18th September

Chief Coroner: 10 point plan - Law and Lawyers 21st September

Coroners - Verdicts

The Guardian 19th December - Owen Gibson - High Court quashes Hillsborough inquest verdicts

The JC.Com 19th December - Marcus Dysch - High Court quahses Hillsborough inquest verdicts


  1. New inquest? What a surprise.

    What is the likelihood that all against whom criminal charges might have run are dead?

    1. An inquest is not about criminal liability but is about, in particular for this case, the timing of the deaths and the whole circumstances. We already know that the 3.15 cut off time was arbitrary. The circumstances of the deaths obviously include the state of the ground at the time; the plans in place for control of spectators; the rescue services. There is little point pretending that this will be a straightforward inquest and it will need a very string Coroner who must be, in my opinion, a senior judge and perhaps even one with previous experience of high-profile inquests.

  2. Agreed, Obiter, I was just thinking ahead. Of course the Grim Reaper might send in his calling card between now and the end of the inquest . . .

  3. Incidentally your reference to a very string coroner is either a pleasing typo or a suggestion that somebody is going be working the coroner like a puppet from behind the scenes . . . behave, Andrew, Break the habit of a lifetime and behave!