The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve QC MP, has today announced that although his consideration of the evidence is not complete, he has made the decision to apply to the High Court to quash the inquest verdicts of the 96 victims and order fresh inquests.
He will now write to the families of the victims to give them the opportunity to make representations, and continue the detailed work of preparing an application. This process will take time.
The Attorney General, in a Written Ministerial Statement to Parliament, said:
Following the publication of the Hillsborough Panel Report I have been considering whether to apply to the High Court for an order quashing the original inquests and ordering new inquests to be held. The High Court will have the power to grant such an order if I place before it evidence that persuades the Court that new inquests are necessary or desirable in the interests of justice.
My consideration of the evidence is far from complete but, given the anxiety further delay may cause the families affected by the Hillsborough Disaster, I have decided to take an exceptional course and state at this stage that, on the basis of what I have already seen, I have determined that I must make an application to the Court.
In doing so I should make it clear that further work will need to be done before any application can be made. In particular, there was not one inquest but 96. My current view is that I will apply to have every one of those 96 inquests quashed. I believe that these deaths, arising as they do from a common chain of events, should all be considered afresh. However, before reaching any final view on the scope of the application, I want to give the families affected the opportunity to make any representations in respect of the family member or members they lost. I will therefore be in contact with each family seeking views.
The application is not simply a matter of putting the Hillsborough Panel Report before the Court. The application will need to be fully prepared and the evidence that underpins the Report’s findings will need to be carefully considered. I want the application that is made to be as persuasive as it can be. Whilst I make this statement at this stage to reassure the families that an application will be made, it must be understood that there are legal as well as evidential issues to be considered. Although this work is being given a high priority, further time will be needed to prepare the application.
The Attorney General takes decisions on whether to apply to the High Court for an inquest as part of his public interest function, independently of Government and strictly on the basis of the evidence.
He has no power to order a new coronial inquest. A new inquest can only be ordered by the High Court on an application made either by the Attorney General or by a third party with the consent of the Attorney General. But before any such application can be made, the Attorney General has to be satisfied that he has sufficient evidence in an admissible form, to persuade the Court that the test set out in section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988 is met.
Application for new Hillsborough inquests: questions and answers (12 November 2012)
Q: Why is this taking a long time? There was a lot of information in the Independent Panel’s report.
A: To prepare an application, the Attorney General must identify the necessary evidence and legal arguments required to persuade the Court that, as a matter of law, new inquests are necessary or desirable in the interests of justice and that there is, at this point in time, enough material available for a new Coroner to reach more accurate conclusions than previously. It is not simply a matter of putting the Hillsborough Panel Report to the Court.
Our best estimate (as of Monday 12 November) is that the Attorney General will be in a position to make an application to the High Court in December.
He is acutely aware of the desire for this process to move forward quickly. The Attorney continues to give this matter the highest priority and will make his application as soon as possible.
Q: What will the Attorney General have to prove when he applies for a new inquest?
A: The Court must be satisfied that new inquests are necessary or desirable in the interests of justice. It is not enough to show that the original inquests were flawed. The purpose of an inquest is to determine who the deceased is, how, when and where he or she died. The “how” includes the events that led to the deceased’s death but it also means the medical cause of death. In considering the Attorney General’s application, the Court will need to be satisfied that the medical evidence that is still available is sufficient to allow a new Inquest to reach informed conclusions as to the medical cause of death
Q: Why is the Attorney General not going to allow or make a separate, earlier application in relation to the death of Kevin Williams?
A: The evidence that supports a new inquest into Kevin Williams’ death is the same evidence that supports new inquests into the other deaths. The court will only wish to consider that evidence in a single hearing. It is right that a single application should be made in relation to each of the inquests being challenged, which will be made as soon as possible.
Q: What is the process?
A: The Attorney General applies to the court and the matter will be listed for hearing. The Court may well give permission to any interested parties to be represented. It is for the Court to determine who may be interested parties but these would normally include the families of the deceased and any other party that might be affected by a decision to order new inquests. The Coroner who held the original inquest or his office will be the respondent to the application. The court needs to be persuaded by the evidence before it that the test is met for a new inquest.
Q: Have other people been consulted?
A: The Attorney has consulted the families of the victims. The Attorney has also approached the original coroner and is in the process of writing to others who may have an interest in any decision to hold new inquests.
Q: Can he not speed up when the inquest takes place?
A: The role of the Attorney General ends when he makes the application. He has no say on when or where any new inquest should take place
Q: Can the Attorney say where an inquest may be held?
A: No, his role ends when he makes the application.