High Court Affirms Coroner's Discretion in Jones v HM Senior Coroner Case

Citation: [2019] EWHC 1494 (Admin)
Judgment on


The case of Jones (on the application of) v HM Senior Coroner for North Wales (East & Central) & Ors concerns a judicial review of decisions made by the Senior Coroner during an inquest into the death of Carl Sargeant AM. The claimant, former First Minister of Wales, challenged the exclusion of specific witness evidence and the assertion that the Coroner failed to investigate potentially dishonest evidence. This article delves into the legal principles and reasoning as applied by the High Court in examining this challenge, focusing on the underlying statutes and precedents that governed the Coroner’s decision-making process.

Key Facts

Carl Sargeant, a minister in the Welsh Government, was found deceased following his dismissal over allegations of sexual impropriety. The inquest led by the Coroner sought to determine the circumstances of his death. The Coroner excluded evidence from four witnesses deemed irrelevant to the statutory questions, leading to the claimant’s call for judicial review on multiple counts, including error in law and irrationality of the Coroner’s decision.

The High Court’s judgment provided thorough legal reasoning pertaining to the role and discretion of a Coroner during an inquest. The Court heavily relied on the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, specifically Section 5, which defines the scope of an inquest to ascertain who the deceased was, and how, when, and where they came by their death. It notably excludes any determination of criminal or civil liability. Furthermore, under Section 10(2), a determination cannot be framed in a way that would imply assigning such liabilities.

The judgment also cited the case R v North Humberside and Scunthorpe Coroner, ex parte Jamieson [1995] QB 1 (Jamieson) that underscores a Coroner’s discretion in setting the scope of an inquest. The Court emphasized the Jamieson ruling’s demarcation of ‘how’ the death occurred to “by what means”, rather than “in what circumstances”, applying to inquests not requiring an Article 2 European Convention on Human Rights compliant inquiry.

The High Court reiterated these principles when examining if the Coroner’s decision was within bounds. It was deemed essential that the decision should not be influenced by irrelevant considerations or speculative assertions not based on evidence. According to the ‘Wednesbury principles’ from Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd v Wednesbury Corp [1948] 1 KB 223, a decision may only be unreasonable if it is one a reasonable authority could not reach, hence applying rationality to the Coroner’s decision.


The Court concluded that the Coroner had acted within his broad discretion, legally and rationally, and that the inquest as a Jamieson inquiry was limited to the fact-finding exercise under Section 5 of the Coroners Act. It was determined that he had taken into account relevant considerations, ruled properly on evidence admission, and had given sufficient reasons for his decisions. Therefore, the application for judicial review was dismissed.


The High Court’s analysis in Jones v HM Senior Coroner illustrates the statutory limits of the Coroner’s Court and the distinct jurisdictional boundary that separates the investigation of death from attributing liability. The judgment reaffirms the standard of reasonableness and discretion vested in Coroners, which must be exercised within the confines of legislatively prescribed duties. Understanding these principles is key for legal professionals considering challenges to the procedural decisions made in the context of an inquest. The High Court’s decision underscores the judiciary’s reluctance to intervene in these discretionary determinations unless clear legal errors or unreasonable consideration is evidenced.