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Sunday, 4 March 2007

Inquest into the death of Diana Princess of Wales

The full judgment of JJ Smith, Collins and Silber on an application for judicial review on the inquest procedure is now online. Another curious old piece of English law.

The office of Royal Coroner was established by an Act of 1541 during the reign of Henry VIII. It survived through consolidating Acts of 1887, 1926 and 1988. The office would therefore have been in place in time for the beheading of Catherine Howard at the Tower in 1542.

The findings of the judgment are tricky. The facts are that Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss could sit either as Royal Coroner or as civil deputy Surrey Coroner. She chose to sit as Royal Coroner because that would enable her to hold the inquest in the Royal Courts on the Strand - London's main court complex. Surrey has no suitable courthouse for a large hearing. As Royal Coroner, if she chose to sit with a jury, that jury would have to be chosen from officers of the Royal Court rather than members of the public. She rejected that option.

The court found that a jury should be present for the hearing. Therefore Dame Elizabeth could not hear the case as Royal Coroner. It accepted her reasoning about the venue, and suggested that she now also be appointed as deputy Westminster Coroner which would enable her to hear the inquest in the Royal Courts with an ordinary jury.

Quite a reasonable conclusion, I think.

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