In R (Grice) v HM Senior Coroner of Brighton and Hove  EWHC 3581, the High Court has summarised the scope of the requirements under Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) for an effective investigation into alleged failures of the police to protect life. The question arose where a coroner had refused to re-open the inquest into the murder of a woman by her former partner after the police had mishandled her complaints of stalking. While the criminal trial by itself had not satisfied the Article 2 investigative obligation, it had been met by the combination of the criminal trial and the four subsequent investigations of police conduct.
Shana Grice had made reports to Sussex Police on a number of occasions complaining of stalking behaviour by her ex-partner Lane. She had had an ongoing intermittent relationship with him during the period and, at one stage, she was considered to have misled the police about the nature of her relationship with him resulting in the policing giving her a fixed penalty notice and a fine for wasting police time. When Ms Grice finally broke off her relationship with Lane, he killed her.
An inquest was opened but suspended, pursuant to Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (CJA) sch 1 para 2, pending the homicide trial. He pleaded not guilty but was convicted of murder in March 2017. In his sentencing remarks the judge noted his concern with the way in which Ms Grice’s complaints had been handled by the police.
Four further investigations or reviews followed the trial:
- A statutory Domestic Homicide Review of the case, which reported in September 2017;
- An investigation into the case by the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC), which reported in June 2018;
- An inspection by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services concerning Sussex Police’s response to cases of stalking and harassment, which reported in April 2019; and
- Police disciplinary proceedings, which concluded in July 2019 with findings of gross misconduct against one officer and misconduct against two others.
When the Senior Coroner was asked to resume the inquest she acknowledged that the state’s investigative obligation under Article 2 was engaged on the basis of a potential breach by the police of their operational duty to safeguard Ms Grice’s life. But she determined that there was not sufficient reason to resume the inquest in the light of all the other investigations that had taken place.
Ms Grice’s mother, brought judicial review proceedings arguing that the inquiries to date, whether viewed individually or collectively, were insufficient to meet the requirements of Article 2. She submitted that the criminal trial involved almost no exploration of the circumstances relating to the police’s responses to G surrounding the murder, with the subsequent investigations being undertaken in private where the bereaved family’s ability to participate in the hearings was either very limited or absent.
The claim was dismissed by the High Court, which upheld that the coroner’s determination that the criminal trial and the other investigations which followed were sufficient to meet the Article 2 obligation. The coroner had been obliged to suspend the inquest pursuant to CJA sch 1 para 1. A suspended investigation “may not be resumed unless, but must be resumed if, the senior coroner thinks that there is sufficient reason for resuming it…”: per CJA sch 1 para 8. That decision was one for the coroner’s judgment and was one of a highly discretionary character. A central issue for the coroner was whether other procedures had already answered the statutory questions under CJA section 5 (including how the deceased came to die) in a manner which adequately served the public interest.
The precise requirements of an Article 2 investigation vary according to the circumstances of the case under consideration, but what are commonly referred to as the Jordan requirements (from Jordan v United Kingdom  ECHR 327; (2003) 37 EHRR 2) must be met:
1. The authorities must act of their own motion;
2. The investigation must be independent;
3. The investigation must be effective in the sense that it must be conducted in a manner that does not undermine its ability to establish the relevant facts; this is an obligation of means rather than results;
4. The investigation must be reasonably prompt;
5. There must be a sufficient element of public scrutiny of the investigation or its results to secure accountability in practice as well as in theory; the degree of public scrutiny required may well vary from case to case: and
6. There must be involvement of the next of kin to the extent necessary to safeguard his or her legitimate interests.
Viewed in its totality, the investigations met the minimum requirements of Article 2. The question was whether, viewed in its totality, the investigations met the minimum requirements identified in Jordan. Commonly, a murder trial alone will meet the state’s Article 2 obligations in respect of a death, and an inquest thereafter will not be necessary. It was not sufficient here because it became apparent that there were serious failings by the police which contributed to the death.
The Claimant’s complaints concerned independence, effectiveness, public scrutiny and the next of kin’s involvement. However, there had been prompt, independent enquiries initiated by the state of its own motion, which were effective, both in the manner in which they established the relevant facts and in the results they achieved, which provided a sufficient element of public scrutiny of the investigation or its results to secure proper accountability and which involved the family to the extent necessary to safeguard their legitimate interests. The coroner was not only entitled to find that these enquiries satisfied Article 2; she was right to do so.
George Thomas of Serjeants’ Inn Chambers (instructed by Weightmans LLP) represented the Chief Constable.