The committee stage of the Coroners Justice Bill: Investigating Deaths of People Detained by the State begins this week, with community leaders and senior politicians also calling for a change in proposals under section 7 of the Bill, which states that deaths in detention will be heard before juries if one of a limited set of circumstances are satisfied.
Race equality groups and professionals on the ground say that this is not sufficient to ensure that such deaths are fully and independently investigated, or give the public the confidence that justice is being seen to be done. Circumstances surrounding the death of David Bennett, which led to a public inquiry, came to light during an inquest into his death before an independent jury.
‘Independent juries have a key role in safeguarding public accountability and are a fundamental to our democracy. Deaths that occur in state detention are often complex and may require detailed scrutiny of systems, procedures and individual acts. An independent jury is the only way to give the public the confidence that justice is being seen to be done,’ Matilda MacAttram, director of Black Mental Health UK said.
‘History shows from David Bennett and other cases that injustices that have come to light because independent juries. It is important that we have coroners sitting with an independent jury where someone has lost their life while in the care of the state in order to ensure justice is met,’ Lord Herman Ouseley former chair of the Commission for Racial Equality said.
‘When a life is lost we owe it to the family and the person themselves to investigate thoroughly exactly what happened in order to ensure that there is no miscarriage of justice or inappropriate action in the cause of their death. To put a clause in such a Bill to leave this to the discretion of the coroner seems to undermine the value of these lives and it gives us great concern,’ pastor Ade Omooba, Co founder The Christian Concern.
‘It seems very serious changes are being made have grave implications for wider society, without any proper discussion in the public domain. It appears that the suggested changes are about greater control over those who are vulnerable or on the margins of society like people in mental health services or failed asylum seekers rather than ensuring better protection of their human rights,’ professor Suman Fernando, senior lecturer at the University of Kent at Canterbury and visiting professor at London Metropolitan University.
‘People in these settings are among society’s most vulnerable, and are often detained against their will. Processes around investigating deaths in detention need to be independent, timely and well resourced. An independent jury is not an add on, it is a must. There needs to be transparency around such investigations anything else could potentially lead to greater injustices,’ Rev Paul Grey, pastor of the Nuneaton branch of New Testament Church of God, and head of i & i mental health users, survivors network said.
‘It would be a step backward not to require a jury in all deaths in custody cases. If it wasn’t for David Bennett’s sister who spoke out once the evidence of how he was treated came out during the inquest hearing, we would never have known happened to him. Instead of tackling inequalities around the treatment of mental health services section 7 will be a step backwards and leaves room for evidence to be buried,’ Rachel Barclay, director of Two Way Street, community health services said.