The secretary of state was not required to hold a public inquiry into the fatal rail crash at Potters Bar because the various investigations that had taken place, combined with a full inquest to be held in the future, would be sufficient to meet his obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 Art.2.
The claimants (L) applied for judicial review of the decision of the defendant secretary of state not to hold a public inquiry into the Potters Bar rail crash. Seven people, including L's daughter, were killed and many others injured when a train derailed. Following the incident several reports into the crash were published and recommendations were made. Substantial changes to the structure of the railway system and those responsible for running it were also implemented. A full inquest was due to take place in the future. The secretary of state decided, in light of those reports and changes, and with the expectation of the full inquest, that the duty to investigate under the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 Art.2 would be satisfied without a public inquiry. L submitted that the secretary of state was required to hold a public inquiry into the crash in order to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 Art.2, and that the renewed inquest would not fulfil the obligation under the Convention. The secretary of state maintained that Art.2 did not oblige him to order a public inquiry, and that whatever the content of the obligation under the Convention, a combination of past inquiry and the future inquest would fulfil the necessary obligations however widely they were drawn.
HELD: (1) It was important to focus on the nature and extent of the obligation to investigate; it was not enough merely to refer to the obligation to investigate under Art.2 because that said nothing about the extent of investigation required. There was a scale at one end of which would be a death for which the state was potentially responsible, which would require the most intense investigation and the greatest participation of next of kin. In such cases Art.2 required the state to initiate an investigation. At the other end of the scale, such as where a patient died in a state hospital arguably due to the negligence of a member of staff, Art.2 required a practical and effective system for investigation but not necessarily one initiated by the state, R (on the application of Takoushis) v HM Coroner for Inner North London (2005) EWCA Civ 1440 , (2006) 1 WLR 461 considered. Even if Art.2 imposed an obligation on the state to initiate its own investigation, that obligation might be satisfied by an inquest, or by a combination of processes, R (on the application of Middleton) v Somerset Coroner (2004) UKHL 10 , (2004) 2 AC 182 considered. (2) There were issues between the parties about whether in the instant case Art.2 imposed a requirement on the state to institute an investigation, and subsidiary questions about the involvement of state agents in the crash. However, they did not need to be resolved because the inquest, in combination with the investigations already undertaken, would meet all that Art.2 required even in its most rigorous application. It was important to note the investigations and changes that had taken place since the crash, and the fact that most other recent fatal rail crashes had not been subject to public inquiries. Moreover, the renewed inquest would be conducted by a High Court judge acting as a deputy coroner. The investigations already undertaken, although independent and full, taken alone would not have satisfied the requirements of a state-instituted investigation because there had been inadequate participation by the bereaved. But, given the secretary of state's assertion that there would be "a full inquest" at which there would be effective family participation, it was inconceivable that the inquest would be anything less than an enhanced or Middleton-type inquest. In fact there was often little difference in practice between an enhanced Middleton-type inquest and other inquests following deaths that gave rise to concern both to those immediately involved and to their families, Takoushis considered.
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