18 August, 2023
The Human Rights Act 1998 ('HRA') explores that an Article 2 Inquest requires the state to carry out an enhanced investigation into the death of an individual, taking into the issue the wider circumstances that surround an individual's death. It is most common when the individual who dies is in the custody and care of the state under the Mental Health Act 1983. In these circumstances, it is a positive obligation on the State to protect an individual taking into consideration any real and immediate risk to the life of the individual.
It is not uncommon for an Article 2 Inquest to be engaged upon the death of an individual that is under the guardianship of the State. However, recent Supreme Court Judgment has limited the circumstances in which an Article 2 Inquest is automatically applied. The recent Judgment ruled that an Article 2 Inquest will not be a one size fits all process and as such, should be narrowly applied even for circumstances where there is a vulnerable person that is under a Deprivation of Liberty (DOLs) and has received a delay in treatment prior to their death.
In R v His Majesty v His Majesty's Senior Coroner for Blackpool & Fylde, Jackie Maguire was a 52 year old woman with Down Syndrome who had lived in a care home since 1993. In the time leading up to her death, there was a series of failings by healthcare staff, including a failure to make a home visit, poor telephone advice and poor liaison with ambulance services that resulted in delayed healthcare treatment. This case explores that despite there being a series of failures from healthcare professionals, these errors do not automatically amount to the engagement of an Article 2 Inquest under the HRA.
The Supreme Court acknowledged that when a person is placed in a care home, a nursing home or a hospital, that does not mean that the state is assumed responsible for all aspects of their physical health. For Jackie's case, an Article 2 Inquest did not need to be engaged for a medical condition that was not diagnosed and treated in an adequate time frame.
The Supreme Court considered whether there was a breach of the systems and operational duties and further, obligations imposed on healthcare and care home providers. The care home was responsible to look after Jackie on behalf of the state and in substitution of her family. In doing so, they had ensured that she could access the healthcare that is available to the population. Additionally, none of the healthcare professionals were on notice that Jackie's life was in real and immediate danger prior to her death on the 22.02.2017. The Supreme Court focused on the operational duty under Article 2 and it was ruled that there was no breach of the operational duty by the care home.
The Supreme Court Judgement confirms that the application of both the system and operational duties of Article 2 are to be narrowly applied and even an extremely vulnerable person, under a DOLs and in receipt of significant social and health care, still do not subject the state to an automatic assumption of responsibility. The failings in this case were down to individual actions and it was not for the state to be held accountable for individual failings.
R v His Majesty's Senior Coroner for Blackpool & Fylde and another demonstrates that Article 2 Inquests are not necessarily relevant to every situation. Specifically, it breaks the professed standards as the Supreme Court confirmed that even despite the vulnerability of the individual involved, the DOLs and the individual residing in a care home receiving day-to-day health and social care, an Article 2 was not engaged and there was no assumed responsibility from the State. This narrow approach will see future cases being struck out when there is an application for an Article 2 Inquest, reducing the number of deaths that are subject to an enhanced investigation and preserving public resources.
Learn more about our Insurance department here