Involvement of families in public investigations of deaths examined

07 March 2018

Joint Committee on Human Rgihts takes evidence from families of Connor Sparrowhawk and Joseph Phuong, INQUEST and human rights lawyers relating to access to justice.

The evidence session follows on from last week’s which examined questions relating to access to justice.

The Committee will consider these in the context of family members’ rights to be involved in the public investigation of a death which may have resulted from a breach of the state’s obligation to protect life under Article 2 of the Human Rights Act.

Article 2 concerns the right to life: the most fundamental human right of all. It places an obligation on the state not only to take life but also to protect it.

How can the inquest process be improved?

Areas likely to be covered include:

  • Help available in understanding rights and process
  • Legal representation
  • Legal aid
  • Participation
  • The role of the coroner
  • How the inquest process might be improved or made easier.


  • Sara Ryan and Richard Huggins, parents of Connor Sparrowhawk.

Connor died in an NHS Assessment and Treatment Unit (Slade House) in Oxford in July 2013, following an epileptic fit.

At his inquest in October 2015 the jury returned a narrative verdict that neglect had contributed to his death.

  • Louise Rowland and Simon Rowland, sister of Joseph Phuong and her husband.

Joseph Phuong died in June 2015 following contact with the police and mental health services in West London.

At his inquest in October 2017 the jury returned a narrative verdict criticising the response to his medical emergency as “chaotic, disorganised and lacking urgency” which possibly contributed to his death.

INQUEST and lawyers questioned

Areas likely to be covered include:

  • How easy or difficult is it for people to enforce their rights?
  • Is an inquest the most appropriate way to investigate deaths?
  • What involvement should families have in the process?
  • Exceptional Case Funding: are the criteria reasonable?
  • Is the system accessible for families, and if not, how can it be improved?


  • Deborah Coles, Director, INQUEST
  • Katie Gollop QC, Barrister, Serjeants Inn Chambers
  • Merry Varney, Solicitor, Leigh Day

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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