Regina v South London Coroner ex parte Thompson; 8 Jul 1982

References: [1982] 126 SJ 625
Coram: Lord Lane CJ
Ratio: The court discussed the function of the coroner and his inquest.
Lord Lane CJ said: ‘The coroner’s task in a case such as this is a formidable one, and no one would dispute that; that is quite apart from the difficulties which inevitably arise when feelings are running high and the spectators are emotionally involved and vocal. Once again it should not be forgotten that an inquest is a fact finding exercise and not a method of apportioning guilt. The procedure and rules of evidence which are suitable for one are unsuitable for the other. In an inquest it should never be forgotten that there are no parties, there is no indictment, there is no prosecution, there is no defence, there is no trial, simply an attempt to establish facts. It is an inquisitorial process, a process of investigation quite unlike a criminal trial where the prosecutor accuses and the accused defends, the judge holding the balance or the reins whichever metaphor one chooses to use.’
and ‘the function of an inquest is to seek out and record as many of the facts concerning the death as [the] public interest requires.’ The Broderick Committee exhaustively considered the role of the coroner’s inquest in modern society. The committee identified the following grounds of public interest which they believed that a coroner’s inquiry should serve:
(1) To determine the medical cause of death;
(ii) To allay such rumours or suspicion;
(iii) to draw attention to the existence of circumstances which, if unremedied, might lead to further deaths;
To advance medical knowledge;
(v) To preserve the legal inteersts of the deceased person’s family, heirs or other interested parties.
However ‘It is not the function of the Coroner’s inquest to provide a forum for attempts to gather evidence for pending or future criminal or civil proceedings.”
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