Paul Reynolds has successfully represented the Marine Accident Investigation Branch in a judicial review claim brought by the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, against a Coroner’s ruling.
The judicial review arose out of an inquest into the death of a fire officer in a marine accident while on duty. The marine accident was investigated by the MAIB, the independent and expert body charged with investigating such matters, which found the accident had been caused both by a lack of due care on the day, but also more institutional matters relating to planning, training and oversight.
At the inquest the Fire Service sought to challenge the institutional findings, criticising the MAIB’s report in various regards. The Coroner rejected all of these criticisms, and held that, given the report was authoritative, he would be directing the jury to accept its findings and conclusions, following the line of caselaw laid down by the Divisional Court in Secretary of State for Transport v Senior Coroner for Norfolk  EWHC 2279 (Admin).
The Fire Service brought a judicial review, challenging the Coroner’s decision. The judicial review challenged the particular findings of the report arguing they were deficient in various way, and also challenged the Norfolk case directly, arguing that it was fundamentally unfair for the Fire Service not to be able to field its own witnesses at the inquest, challenging the MAIB’s findings before the jury.
Mr Justice Eyre rejected all of the Fire Service’s arguments and accepted the MAIB’s submissions that the MAIB was the appropriate expert body to which the Coroner was right to defer, that its report was unimpeachable, and that the process was fair.
This is an important judgment in clarifying the law in relation to inquests following an investigation by one of the three Accident Investigation Branches (the others being Air and Rail). In particular, it confirms that the relevant sections of the Norfolk case were binding ratio, and not obiter dicta, as well as confirming the very high threshold to proving deficiency in an AIB report.
Paul Reynolds was led by Keith Morton KC in the Administrative Court, and is sole counsel for the MAIB in the inquest.
The judgment can be found here.