COVID-19: The human rights and equality implications of Coronavirus for Coroners and inquest lawyers

As part of our series considering the human rights and equality implications of Covid-19, Tamar Burton and Rachel Barrett consider the implications in the area of inquests.

The daily death tolls announced during the coronavirus crisis are tragic and sobering. Within these stark statistics are unique human stories. When it comes to investigating how people came by their deaths, Covid-19 poses some new challenges for coroners and inquest lawyers.

In the attached paper, Tamar Burton and Rachel Barrett discuss some of the questions arising, including:

  • When does a death from illness require investigation as an ‘unnatural’ death?
  • How does the right to life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’) affect the state’s obligation to investigate some Covid-19 deaths?
  • What are the differences between an inquest and an inquiry, and will a public inquiry be needed?
  • What does the Chief Coroner’s Guidance issued during the pandemic tell us about the inquest process during and after the lockdown?
  • Can an inquest investigate whether inadequate PPE contributed to a person’s death?
  • Can hearings take place by video and telephone during the lockdown?
  • Are deaths from Covid-19 being properly recorded?
  • Covid-19 affects people differently depending on their age, sex, race and socioeconomic background. Does the state’s obligation to provide non-discriminatory protection against risk of death (under Articles 2 and 14 ECHR) have practical implications for health and care services and employers? And what obligations arise to investigate these issues after people have died?

In a fast-developing situation, the paper will enable those interested in inquest law to get up to speed on current guidance and practice, as well as explore some tricky areas that may well be the subject of future legal decisions.

As always, specific advice should be commissioned for specific situations.  If you do need tailored advice or representation then please contact the skilled clerking team at Cloisters on 02078274000 or and they will be able to put you in touch with one of the team with the skills that you need.