Coroner’s Court radical judgment – burden of proof on suicide changed

Coroner’s Court radical judgment – burden of proof on suicide changed

In R (Maughan) v HM Senior Coroner Oxfordshire 2018 the High Court has upheld the Coroner’s decision to allow a jury to reach the following narrative conclusion “we believe J deliberately tied a ligature made of sheets around his neck and suspended himself from the bedframe.  J had a history of mental health challenges and on the night of 10 July 2016 was visibly agitated.  We find that on the balance of probabilities it is more likely than not that J intended to fatally hang himself that night”. 

J’s brother was dissatisfied with that finding and argued the conclusion was unlawful and that the Coroner should have applied the criminal beyond reasonable doubt test in deciding whether J had intended to kill himself. 

The Court looked at the nature and function of a modern inquest (suicide has not been a crime for over 50 years) and said there was no relationship or analogy between Coroner’s proceedings and criminal proceedings which could in principle now justify applying the criminal standard of proof coronial to years of coronial decisions applying the stricter criminal burden of proof the High Court as now determined that the standard of proof required for a conclusion of suicide whether recorded in short form or as a narrative statement is the balance of probabilities bearing in mind that such a conclusion can only be reached if there is sufficient evidence to justify it. 

In doing so the Court dismissed J’s brother’s review and held that there was nothing wrong with the Coroner’s directions to the jury and that their conclusion was lawful.