Local authorities have expressed concern that a senior coroner is not fulfilling his duty to hold inquests in public.
Lawyers representing a number of London councils told a High Court judge that West London Senior Coroner Chinyere Inyama has staged “numerous” hearings outside office hours and should be investigated.
They told Mr Justice Soole at a High Court hearing in London on 4 August that between April and December 2015 Mr Inyama staged around 80 hearings at times ranging from 6.15pm to 11.52pm.
Barrister Deok Joo Rhee – who led the councils’ legal team – said there were “serious concerns” that Mr Inyama had acted in “persistent breach” of rules governing the staging of inquests.
Rule 11 of the Coroners (Inquests) Rules 2013 states that inquests must be opened in public, and that an inquest hearing and any pre-inquest hearing must be held in public.
A Coroner may exclude the public from an inquest hearing, or part of a hearing, if he or she considers it necessary in the interests of justice or the interests of national security.
Ms Rhee told Mr Justice Soole that said council chiefs thought the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) – which handles complaints about the conduct of judicial office holders – should investigate.
Lawyers representing the JCIO disagreed, saying the councils’ complaint was not about Mr Inyama’s personal conduct, and suggested that a High Court judge could be asked to analyse the concerns of the local authorities.
Mr Justice Soole refused to order the JICO to investigate.
He suggested the councils would need to find another way of triggering an investigation.
Mr Inyama was not at the hearing – although lawyers told Mr Justice Soole that he was aware of the councils’ concerns.
Ms Rhee said a number of councils had responsibilities within the West London Coronial Area, and that the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham had taken the lead in raising concerns.
“The relevant concerns … related to the holding by senior coroner Inyama of hearings out of office hours/in private and at times which differed from those in the coroner’s diary,” she told Mr Justice Soole in a written outline of her case.
“There were around 80 occasions on which senior coroner Inyama acted in this manner.”
A council official had counted around 80 inquest hearings – including inquest openings and “deprivation of liberty safeguard inquests” – which had been held at times ranging from shortly after 6pm to close to midnight, she said.
Ms Rhee added: “There are therefore serious concerns that the senior coroner has acted in persistent breach of … the duty of coroners to hold inquests in public.”
This, she said, raised a “real question of misconduct”.
Mr Inyama hit the headlines a year ago after overseeing inquest hearings following the murder of 14-year-old Alice Gross – whose body was found in the Grand Union Canal in Ealing, west London.
Alice’s parents spoke of their bewilderment and anger after Mr Inyama left a file relating to the investigation on a train. Police tried to recover the file but concluded it had probably been ”destroyed as waste”.