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On 24 July 2020, the Divisional Court handed down judgment in a challenge to a ruling made by the Senior Coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon regarding the scope of the inquest to be conducted into the death of Dawn Sturgess.

The judicial review claim raised two grounds of challenge. By the first ground, the Claimant submitted that the Senior Coroner had erred by finding that Article 2 of the Convention did not require him to investigate the issue of Russian state responsibility and the source of Novichok. The Claimant submitted that the United Kingdom was under an obligation to investigate arguable breaches of Article 2 ECHR by the agents of a foreign state which resulted in a death in the United Kingdom. That argument was rejected by the Divisional Court. At §32 the Court held:

The issue in this case is whether a state where a death has occurred is required by Article 2 of the Convention to carry out an investigation into the actions of agents of a foreign state who may be responsible for the death. In our judgment, the procedural obligation imposed on a state by Article 2 of the Convention is intended to ensure that a state is held accountable for breaches for which it is or its own agents are responsible. It is not intended to impose an obligation on a state to investigate the actions of a foreign state which may have caused or contributed to a death. Article 2 of the Convention does not, therefore, impose an obligation on the United Kingdom to carry out an investigation of the actions of agents of a foreign state, Russia, in the present circumstances.”

By the second ground, the Claimant submitted that the Senior Coroner had failed to take into account relevant considerations and/or erred in his interpretation and/or application of s.10 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. The Divisional Court held that the Senior Coroner’s reasons did involve a material error of law. The ruling was therefore quashed, and the case remitted to the Senior Coroner.

Sir James Eadie QC and Jason Pobjoy acted on behalf of the First Interested Party, the Home Secretary.

A copy of the judgment is available here.

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