The Supreme Court has handed down a judgment today in which, by majority, the Judges decided that a verdict of suicide or unlawful killing arising out of an Inquest required proof to a civil and not criminal standard. Until now the law had been that a Coroner or a Coronial Jury could only bring in a verdict of suicide is the cause of death if it were satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the deceased intended to kill himself or herself. Equally, a verdict of unlawful killing required to be proved to the criminal standard.
That position has now been changed by the Supreme Court as a result of the judgment handed down in R (on the application of Maughan) v Her Majesty’s Senior Coroner for Oxfordshire  UKSC 46 which decided that the civil standard of proof applies to short form conclusions of suicide. The majority decided that the previous case law was not binding on the Supreme Court and did not identify a good reason against applying the civil standard for both verdicts. The Judges concluded that applying different standards of proof for short form and narrative conclusions would lead to an internally inconsistent system of fact-finding and so was inappropriate. They were also concerned that, if a criminal standard of proof is required, suicide is likely to be under-recorded. The Judges noted that societal attitudes to suicide have changed and the role of inquests has developed to be concerned with the investigation of deaths, not criminal justice. They also decided the same approach should be taken for unlawful killing verdicts.