Dutch police have launched an investigation following the death of 22 year old Joel McDevitt from Burnley who died in hospital after allegedly taking drugs whilst in Amsterdam. His friend remains in hospital.
Both men were found nearby a canal and taken to hospitals in the city.
It is thought that the male had discharged himself from hospital and the police were informed. The male did not want to go back to the hospital and was subsequently taken to the police station. His condition was monitored however he deteriorated and required resuscitation. Paramedics intervened and he was transferred to hospital where he sadly died.
Because the male had been in the custody of the police prior to his death, a state investigation has now been launched, which will mean there will be an inquest pursuant to Article 2 ECHR into his death.
What is an Article 2 inquest?
Article 2 of the ECHR protects everyone’s right to life and there is a “general duty” on the part of the state to protect life.
This has been modified by the additional layer of the “operational duty” which considers whether the authorities knew, or ought to have known; of a real and immediate risk to the life of an individual and that they failed to take measures which could have avoided that risk.
What circumstances give rise to an Article 2 inquest?
When someone dies whilst in the care of the state, if there is evidence of a breach of the general or operational duty, the state is obliged to investigate. This is known as the “procedural duty”. This duty can be discharged by the state holding an inquest. Where it is the inquest which discharges this procedural obligation, it must take the form of what is often called a Middleton (Article 2) inquest.
In identifying “how…..the deceased came by his death”, a Middleton inquest interprets “how” as “by what means and in what circumstances”.
What to expect in an Article 2 inquest
For the Coroner to be satisfied that they are able to answer “how” and “by what means and in what circumstances” the Deceased came about their death, the Coroner will take steps to obtain evidence from a number of witnesses that can assist in answering this question. In most cases, this will comprise of obtaining disclosure of items such as reports from the pathologist who carried out the post mortem, medical professionals, treating consultants and discipline staff. The Coroner may further commission expert evidence to assist with his inquiry.
The inquest will be held in public which means anyone can attend however in certain circumstances, parts of the inquest will be held in private.
When the death has occurred in prison or police custody the Coroner mostly sit with a jury and it will be the jury that decides on the inquest conclusion. The family of the Deceased is able to make representations to the Coroner in other circumstances where they believe the Coroner should sit with a jury, if for example, they believe their loved-one died as a result of a systemic failure or where steps could be taken to avoid similar deaths in the future.
The family will be involved in the inquest process from the early stages. They will be deemed an “Interested Party” and can attend and question witnesses and also make submissions to the Coroner on important points during the inquest. In most circumstances, an interested person such as the police, prison service or an NHS Trust, will be legally represented.
The family of the Deceased are also entitled to legal representation and where a loved one dies in the custody of the state, they may be eligible for “exceptional case funding” from the Legal Aid Agency.
What happens at the end of an Article 2 Inquest
The Coroner makes a “finding of fact” as to “who the deceased was, when and where” they died and gives a medical cause of death.
The answer to the question “how the person came about their death” is answered by what is known as a “Conclusion.”
When sitting with a jury, the Coroner will guide the jurors on what conclusions are reasonable in law. Legal representatives are also given the opportunity to comment on what conclusions they believe should be considered. The jury will also be given the task of making the finding of fact.
What if the Coroner has heard evidence that gives concerns other deaths will occur?
If upon hearing the evidence the Coroner is concerned that it gives rises to potential deaths occurring in the future, then the Coroner has the power to write what is known as a “Prevention of Future Deaths Report.” This report will be sent to the people or organisations that are in a position to take action to reduce this risk for example, the Ministry of Justice where a concern has arisen from a prison death.
The family will be entitled to a copy of this report and responses to the report and indeed it will be published on the Ministry of Justice Website as it is matter of public record.
Securing legal representation
Here at Farleys, we have a legal aid franchise which means we are able to make applications for exceptional case funding for families to be legally represented at an inquest. Securing this type of funding means that you as a family will have the benefit of specialist legal advice throughout the inquest process. This will assist in taking much of the stress out of preparing for the inquest but most importantly, it will ensure that you gain as much from the inquest as possible and hopefully achieve the answers to the many questions you will undoubtedly have when your loved one dies.
It will allow you the benefit of experienced Counsel at the inquest to avoid you having to ask questions of witnesses which is often a challenging task.
If the death of your loved one gives rise to an Article 2 inquest but you are concerned you may not be financially eligible for exceptional case funding then it is important to note that representations can be made to the Legal Aid Agency that the financial eligibility criteria be waivered.