Regina v HM Attorney-General for Northern Ireland and Another Ex Parte Devine, Same Ex Parte Breslin: HL 1 Apr 1992

The Coroner had held an inquest into the deaths of three persons who had been shot by soldiers. The Coroner had admitted statements made by the soldiers under Rule 17 of the Northern Ireland Rules. Those statements had been produced in evidence by the officers who had taken the statements. The statements of witnesses were admitted at an inquest despite the fact that the evidence was not compellable.
Held: Since under common law, the statements could be produced by the witnesses who were called, the application for judicial review was dismissed.
Lord Goff said: ‘The function of rule 17, which was first introduced in the Rules of 1963, is to regulate the circumstances in which a coroner in Northern Ireland may simply admit a document in evidence, without requiring the maker of the document to attend the inquest and give oral evidence. If the document is admitted as such in evidence under the rule, the contents of the document can no doubt be treated as evidence in the same way as the evidence of the maker of the document given orally to the like effect would have been so treated. In the absence of rule 17 there would, so far as I am aware, have been nothing to restrict the power of the coroner (who in the conduct of an inquisition has historically not been bound by the strict rules of evidence applicable in litigation: see Rex v Divine, ex part Walton [1930] w KB 29, 36, per Talbot J) to admit a document in evidence in t his way. It was for this reason that, in McKerr v Armagh Coroner [1990] 1 WLR 649, 657-658, I referred to rule 17 (as substituted by amendment in 1980) as an example of a rule of practice or procedure which restricts the power of a coroner, and described the rule as one which defines the power of a coroner to admit documentary evidence.
But, in agreement with both Carswell J and the Court of Appeal, I cannot see that rule 17 has the effect of excluding evidence which may otherwise be admissible, even it it is in documentary form. In particular, I cannot see that the rule excludes the power of a coroner to admit hearsay evidence otherwise proved simply because such evidence has been reduced to documentary form. The evidence in the present case consists of statements made by soldiers A, B and C to police officers, which were proved to have been so given by the police officers in question. Had these statements not been recorded in writing, rule 17 would obviously have been irrelevant, and it would have been open to the coroner to admit the statements in evidence, although the evidence was in such circumstances hearsay. As it was, the statements were recorded in writing; but it would be absurd that this fact should render such evidence inadmissible. I cannot see that rule 17, even on the assumption that the written statements were not admissible simply as documentary evidence under the rule, has the effect of excluding the statements as proved by the police officers in the present case. On this basis, the conclusion of the courts below on the admissibility of the evidence is, in my opinion, fully supportable.’
Lord Goff
Gazette 01-Apr-1992, [1992] 1 WLR 262
Coroners (Practice and Procedure) Rules (NI) 1980 17
Northern Ireland
Appeal fromRegina v HM Attorney-General for Northern Ireland and Another Ex Parte Devine CANI 1992
An inquest was held into three deaths thought to be at the hands of British soldiers. The coroner had admitted written evidence from statements taken by British officers on the basis that the makers of the statements were not compellable as . .
Adhered toMcKerr v Armagh Coroner HL 1990
It is for the coroner to decide how to adduce the necessary evidence as to death. Lord Goff discussed Rule 17 of the 1980 Rules: ‘Nor, in my opinion, does the mere fact that a rule restricts the power of a coroner as to the evidence which he may . .

Cited by:
CitedIn re McKerr (Northern Ireland) HL 11-Mar-2004
The deceased had been shot by soldiers of the British Army whilst in a car in Northern Ireland. The car was alleged to have ‘run’ a checkpoint. The claimants said the investigation, now 20 years ago, had been inadequate. The claim was brought under . .
CitedAssistant Deputy Coroner of Inner West London v Paul and Another, Regina on the Application of CA 28-Nov-2007
The coroner appealed a judicial review granted after he allowed into evidence, hearsay evidence contained in a written statemnent from a witness who could not attend the inquest.
Held: Rule 37 does not allow the admission of a document, even . .
CitedRegina v Davis HL 18-Jun-2008
The defendant had been tried for the murder of two men by shooting them at a party. He was identified as the murderer by three witnesses who had been permitted to give evidence anonymously, from behind screens, because they had refused, out of fear, . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 24 August 2021; Ref: scu.86862