Skip to main content

Inquests into deaths of military personnel

Volume 594: debated on Tuesday 24 March 2015

The Petition of Susan Fleeting,

Declares that the Ministry of Defence should come under the same rules and regulations as other government departments; further that inquests relating to serving military personnel who die on a military base in a non-combat role should be heard by a jury; further that the investigation of sudden deaths in military service must be subject to the same protection as that which is available for similar investigations into deaths in a prison or police station; and further that an e-petition on this subject has been signed by 3072 individuals.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to enact a legislative requirement for an inquest to be held before a jury when serving military personnel die on a military base in a non-combat role

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr Michael McCann, Official Report, 20 January 2015; Vol. 591, c. 187.]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Justice:

The Ministry of Justice has responsibility for coroner legislation, including that which governs inquests into the deaths of service personnel. We remain indebted and deeply grateful to service personnel for their courage and determination on behalf of us all.

The coroner reforms in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (the 2009 Act), implemented in 2013, aimed to improve all bereaved people’s experience of coroner investigations, whether they are service families or otherwise.

Under the 2009 Act a coroner must normally hold an inquest without a jury. However a coroner must hold an inquest with a jury if:

the deceased died in state detention or custody and the death was violent or unnatural or the cause of death is unknown;

the death resulted from an act or omission by a police officer or member of the armed forces executing their duties; or

the death was caused by a notifiable accident, poisoning or disease.

We see the jury requirement as primarily applicable to deaths in which the state may have been involved. We believe that this would not normally be the position for service personnel who are on a military base but not on active service at the time of their death from natural causes or an event separate from their service role.

The 2009 Act does, however, give coroners discretion to hold any inquest with a jury where they decide that there is sufficient reason to do so. In some circumstances this could cover the death of a service person on a military base who was not on active service.

I appreciate that bereaved people may understandably have many questions and worries, both about a death itself and the coroner’s investigation. For that reason I published in February 2014 the “Guide to Coroner Services” The guide aims to set out what bereaved people can expect from a coroner’s investigation, and how they can participate and includes advice on raising questions or concerns.