R (Maughan) v Her Majesty’s Senior Coroner for Oxfordshire [2020] UKSC 46

In 2020 the Supreme Court gave judgment on the question of the standard of proof to be applied at an inquest where the death might have been caused by suicide or unlawful killing.

Traditionally, in order to be satisfied that either conclusion should be returned the criminal standard of proof was required. However, that all changed with the judgment of the Divisional Court and then the Court of Appeal in this case. This longstanding practice was held to be devoid of a sound legal basis. Given that the inquest was not itself a criminal proceeding, it was decided that the civil standard ought to be applied to both conclusions.

The Supreme Court has now confirmed that that is right, by a majority of 3 to 2. The relevant Note in the Coroner’s Rules that suggested to the contrary was held to be not a specification of a standard of proof, but instead a reflection of what was then (incorrectly) understood to be the legal position.

The result is that all forms of conclusion in the Coroner’s Court, whether narrative or short form, are to be rendered on the balance of probabilities.

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