Monday, 28 February 2011

The coroner and the deficiencies in the Hutton Inquiry

Earlier today I sent an email to the office of the Attorney General.  It was mainly concerned with highlighting the fact that all the deficiencies in the Hutton inquiry were subsumed into the decision made by the Oxfordshire coroner Nicholas Gardiner on the 16th March 2004 not to resume his inquest.

The text of my email to Mr McGinty at the AG's office is reproduced below:

Mr McGinty
On 10 December 2010 I wrote a letter to the Attorney General concerning new evidence that I had received relating to the death of Dr David Kelly.  I subsequently sent you an email on the 23rd February 2011 again relating to the death of Dr Kelly.  I ask that you place this present communication with those previously mentioned for consideration by the Attorney General.
I request that in considering any deficiencies in the Hutton Inquiry (in the meaning of the criteria specified in Section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988), whether identified by myself or others, that these deficiencies are also applied in the Attorney General's consideration of the abbreviated inquest conducted by Nicholas Gardiner QC.
Lord Falconer, at the time in question holding the post of Lord Chancellor, invoked section 17A of the Coroners Act 1988  during the course of the Hutton Inquiry.  Lord Hutton's Terms of Reference at the start of his Inquiry were "urgently to conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr Kelly".  Bearing in mind that section 17A had been invoked I had wondered whether his Terms of Reference had changed during the course of the Inquiry to reflect this fact but from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request I ascertained that the Terms of Reference remained unaltered through the Inquiry.
Lord Hutton chose to hear all the evidence unsworn even though section 17A had been invoked.  There were instances when a witness produced testimony that was in direct contradiction to that of one or more other witnesses.  I consider that a competent judge would have resolved these differences, not only did Lord Hutton fail to do this but he made no attempt to try and do so.
As is well known Lord Hutton formally delivered his report to Lord Falconer, the latter in his then role of Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, on the 28 January 2004.  In his report Lord Hutton concurred with the view of forensic pathologist Dr Hunt that Dr Kelly had met his death by committing suicide.
On 16 March 2004 the Oxfordshire coroner Nicholas Gardiner held a hearing to determine whether there were exceptional reasons to resume his inquest.  I understand that it was only the family of Dr Kelly and the Ministry of Defence that were represented at this hearing.  Notwithstanding the fact that Lord Hutton didn't take witness evidence under oath, that there were clearly unresolved conflicts of evidence in the testimonies and that Lord Hutton couldn't subpoena witnesses to attend Mr Gardiner found no exceptional reasons to resume the inquest.  This decision by Mr Gardiner I find to be quite extraordinary.
I note the following in the "The Coroners (Amendment) Rules 1999:
“Public inquiry findings
37A.—(1) Notwithstanding the provisions of Rule 37, at an inquest resumed after having been adjourned pursuant to section 17A of the 1988 Act, the coroner may admit documentary evidence relevant to the purposes of the inquest and containing the findings of the public inquiry to which section 17A(1)(a) refers.
By making clear his acceptance of the conclusions of the Hutton Inquiry (even though the Inquiry was deficient as outlined above and clearly not of coronial standard) Mr Gardiner had effectively subsumed the Hutton Inquiry into his hearing of the 16 March 2004.  Therefore any criticisms of the Hutton Inquiry, and I am aware that there are a large number that have been directed to the Attorney General for his consideration, are also equally valid criticisms of the decision by the coroner Mr Nicholas Gardiner on 16 March 2004 not to resume the inquest because of his expressed satisfaction with the Hutton Inquiry and its findings.
The content of this communication is I submit further reason for there to be a new inquest into the death of Dr David Kelly and for such an inquest to be overseen by a new coroner.
I would be grateful if you would acknowledge receipt of this email. 
Brian Spencer

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