Article 2 Inquests

Published date24 November 2021
Subject MatterLitigation, Mediation & Arbitration, Food, Drugs, Healthcare, Life Sciences, Arbitration & Dispute Resolution, Food and Drugs Law
Law FirmBLM
AuthorMr David Rainey

R (Morahan) v HM Assistant Coroner for West London [2021] EWHC 1603 (Admin)

Following the death of a young voluntary in-patient of a psychiatric rehabilitation unit who died from an accidental overdose of illicit drugs used at home during an agreed period of leave, the High Court has explored the circumstances in which a death might require an Article 2 compliant inquest.

The facts of the case

Tanya Morahan was aged 34 when she died in July 2018. The pathologist concluded that she had died of cocaine and morphine toxicity. She had a history of mental illness, since the age of 24, and had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and harmful cocaine use.

At the time of her death Ms Morahan was a voluntary in-patient at Colham Green Rehabilitation Unit (CGR), a community based open rehabilitation unit operated by an NHS Trust (the Trust). She had been detained for six months as patient under s. 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA) following transfer from an acute psychiatric ward. On 25 June 2018 her s. 3 MHA detention, which was due to expire three days later, was rescinded and she became a voluntary in-patient.

On 30 June 2018 she left the unit, with her clinicians' agreement, but failed to return as required that evening. She returned the following evening 1 July 2018 at which time her drug screening was negative. On the afternoon of 3 July 2018, again with her clinicians' agreement, she left the ward, but failed to return. She was sadly found dead at her home on 9 July 2018.

Right to life protected by law

Article 2.1 of the European Convention on Human Rightsprovides that "Everyone's right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction for a crime for which this penalty is provided by law."

Article 2 has been interpreted as imposing three distinct duties on states and those exercising state functions:

  1. The negative operational duty to refrain from taking life without justification.
  2. The positive duty to protect life which has two aspects
    1. To put in place an effective legislative and administrative framework to protect the right to life. This is known as the framework or systems duty.
    2. Positive Operational Duty - where the state agency knows or ought reasonably to know of a real and immediate risk to an individual's life it is required to take such measures as could reasonably be expected of it to avoid such risk.

In this context the term...

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