Why new inquests are being held
The report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which was published in September 2012, highlighted new evidence relating to the events of and since the disaster on 15 April 1989. The Attorney-General then made an application (also known as a ‘fiat’) under section 13 of the Coroner’s Act 1988 to quash the findings returned in the original inquests. The application was heard on 19 December 2012: the court quashed the original findings and ordered that new Inquests should be held
. In his judgment, the Lord Chief Justice said:
“This combination of circumstances, as we have narrated, makes inevitable the order for a new inquest. The interests of justice must be served. Within the limits of the coronial system, the facts must be investigated and reanalysed in a fresh inquest when, however distressing or unpalatable, the truth will be brought to light. In this way the families of those who died in this disaster will be vindicated and the memory of each victim will be properly respected… All the inquisitions will be quashed. There will be new inquests in each and every case.”
When the hearings will start
A number of preliminary hearings have now taken place, on 25 April 2013, 5 June 2013, 7 October 2013, 16 December 2013 and 5 February 2014. The final preliminary hearing will take place on Thursday 27 March 2014 at 305 Bridgewater Place, Birchwood Park, Warrington, Cheshire WA3 6XQ. The full hearings will then commence at the same venue on Monday 31 March 2014.
Public and media access
The public and the media will be allowed into the inquests hearings. However, space in any venue for the inquests is likely to be limited and priority will be given to Interested Persons and their legal representatives. The inquests hearings are court proceedings and are subject to the same restrictions as would apply in any other case. This means that, when the court is sitting, telephone calls and the use of recording equipment, cameras and personal stereos are strictly prohibited. Reporters in the hearing room will be expected to remain throughout each session unless there is a break in proceedings. It is expected that the use of live text-based media will be permitted in the press and public areas of the hearing room; the coroner will make this clear at the start of the first hearing. The inquests team reserves the right to take away that privilege if it interferes with the administration of justice. Laptops may be used in the press and public areas if they do not disturb others, but they may not be used to make live recordings of proceedings. Power sockets are available in the Annexe.
Transcripts and evidence
Transcripts of each hearing will be published on this website together with, wherever possible, the evidence that has been seen and heard during the course of the inquests.
Who is conducting the inquests
A senior judge has been appointed to conduct these inquests because of the exceptional circumstances of the events following the Hillsborough disaster and the unusual circumstances of fresh inquests being ordered. The Right Hon. Sir John Goldring is a retired judge of the Court of Appeal and has wide-ranging experience across the criminal and civil jurisdictions. He was nominated for this role by the Lord Chief Justice.
Solicitors and counsel to the inquests
Sir John has decided to appoint solicitors and counsel to the inquests because of the complexity of the issues involved. Fieldfisher LLP have been appointed as Solicitors to the Inquests and are represented by Tim Suter and Oliver Carlyon. Christina Lambert QC, Jonathan Hough, Matthew Hill, Anthony Jones, Paul Reynolds and Nikita McNeill have been appointed as Counsel to the Inquests.
Other ongoing investigations
The Home Secretary announced a new criminal inquiry into the events surrounding the Hillsborough disaster on 19 December 2012. This is being led by the former Chief Constable of Durham, Jon Stoddart.This inquiry will run alongside an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) into allegations of police misconduct arising from the aftermath of the disaster.Under section 16 of the Coroners Act 1988, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) can ask a Coroner to adjourn an inquest until the conclusion of any relevant criminal proceedings. The DPP has made clear that, at this point, he sees no reason to ask for such an adjournment in these Inquests.
The purpose of an inquest
An inquest is a process for investigating the factual circumstances of a death. It is a fact-finding inquiry to find the answers to:
- who the deceased was;
- when and where the death occurred;
- how the deceased came by his or her death; and
- particulars required by the Registration Acts to be registered concerning the death.
The proceedings and evidence are aimed only at determining the answers to these questions. Expressions of opinion on any other matter – for example, criminal or civil liability – are not allowed. However, the coroner does have the power to investigate not only the main cause of death but also “any acts or omissions which directly led to the cause of death”.
Possible outcomes in an inquest
Possible verdicts in an inquest include:
- natural causes
- unlawful or lawful killing
- industrial disease
- open verdicts (where there isn’t enough evidence for any other verdict)
There may also be a ‘narrative’ verdict, which sets out in more detail how the person died.
The coroner may also report the death to any appropriate person or authority if action is needed to prevent more deaths in similar circumstances.
Who can take part in and be represented at an inquest
Anyone deemed by the coroner to have what is called a “proper interest” may ask relevant questions of a witness at an inquest. They can be:
- a parent, child, spouse, civil partner, partner and any personal representative of the deceased;
- any beneficiary under a policy of insurance on the life of the deceased or the insurer;
- any person whose act or omission or that of his agent or servant may, in the opinion of the coroner, have caused or contributed to the death of the deceased;
- any person appointed by a trade union to which the deceased at the time of his death belonged, if the death of the deceased may have been caused by an injury received in the course of his employment or by an industrial disease;
- an inspector appointed by, or a representative of, an enforcing authority, or any person appointed by a government department to attend the inquest;
- the chief officer of police; or
- any other person who, in the opinion of the coroner, is a properly interested person.
A list of the Interested Persons to these inquests can be found on the documents page.
Who can be called to give evidence
The Coroner is responsible for deciding who should give evidence to the Inquests; where appropriate, he will take the views of the Interested Persons in advance. People may be called to give evidence if they can provide material and relevant information on the issues which fall to be considered. The Coroner has the power to compel witnesses to appear if that becomes necessary.
Role of the Inquests’ Legal Team
The Solicitor to the Inquests has a varied role, including:
- helping the coroner to conduct his investigation;
- obtaining evidence;
- overseeing disclosure to Interested Persons;
- instructing Counsel to the Inquests; and
- liaising with witnesses, Interested Persons and their legal representatives.
The role of Counsel to the Inquests can include:
- presenting evidence;
- questioning witnesses; and
- making legal submissions to assist the coroner.