Why are there further Inquests into the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales and Mr Dodi Al Fayed?
These are not further Inquests. This is the continuation of the original Coroner’s Inquests which commenced in January 2004.
What is the purpose of an Inquest?
Coroners are independent judicial officers who work within a legal framework established by Act of Parliament. A Coroner's inquest is a long-established, tried and tested process for investigating the factual circumstances of a death. It is a limited fact-finding inquiry to establish the answers to:
The proceedings and evidence are aimed solely at ascertaining the answers to these questions. Expressions of opinion on any other matter - for example, on who might be to blame - are not allowed. However, the Coroner does have the power to investigate not just the main cause of death, but also "any acts or omissions which directly led to the cause of death".
More information on the role of a Coroner
Why did Baroness Butler-Sloss step down from hearing these Inquests?
Baroness Butler-Sloss felt that she did not have the degree of experience of jury cases that was necessary and appropriate for presiding over inquests of this level of public interest.
Lord Justice Scott Baker took up his appointment as Assistant Deputy Coroner in June 2007.
Why isn’t the Royal Coroner dealing with these Inquests?
Mr Michael Burgess holds dual roles as Coroner of The Queen’s Household and Coroner for Surrey. As a result, both of the deaths fell within his jurisdictions.
Mr Burgess opened Inquest proceedings but it became clear that, given the heavy workload of his principal position as Coroner for Surrey, he would not have the time to undertake the hearing of these Inquests. He first appointed Baroness Butler-Sloss as an Assistant Deputy Coroner for Surrey and Deputy Coroner of The Queen’s Household.
Following the decision of the Administrative court on 2 March 2007, Baroness Butler-Sloss was appointed as Assistant Deputy Coroner for Inner West London, hearing the Inquests in that capacity.
Following the decision by Baroness Butler-Sloss to step down from the Inquests, Lord Justice Scott Baker has taken over this role.
Will Lord Justice Scott Baker take account of the findings of the Operation Paget report published by the Metropolitan Police?
When he opened the Inquests in January 2004, Michael Burgess, the Coroner of The Queen’s Household and Coroner for Surrey, announced that he had asked Lord Stevens, the then Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, to make enquiries as to whether the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales and Mr Dodi Al Fayed had resulted from a criminal act as opposed to a straightforward road traffic accident. In cases where a Coroner receives information suggesting that a crime may have occurred it is usual for the matter to be referred to the police for them to undertake an investigation. This is a fairly common occurrence and not, therefore, unique to these cases.
Lord Stevens has made clear that it is not his role to prejudge the Inquests: it is for the Deputy Coroner to decide the questions and where, when and how they died. Although the Operation Paget report will assist in identifying the scope of the Inquest, it is for the Deputy Coroner to consider what evidence and documentation is relevant to the Inquest.
Will the police submit a separate report to the Coroner?
Yes. The Coroner requested a specific Inquiry by the Metropolitan Police into allegations of conspiracy to murder, resulting in the Operation Paget Inquiry Report.
In addition to this the Coroner requested any further information and evidence that will assist in establishing the 'how, why and where' those involved died. This report has been produced by the Operation Paget team and was given to the Deputy Coroner in late January 2007.
When will the Inquests start?
The Inquest hearings started on 2 October 2007 at the Royal Courts of Justice.
How long will the Inquests take?
It is estimated that the inquests will last 4 months. The maximum duration of the inquests is to be 6 months, subject to any further order.
Why has it taken so long for these Inquests to be undertaken?
The Inquests could not start because of the need to conclude the thorough judicial investigation into the deaths, undertaken by the French authorities in France between August 1997 and late 2003.
In early 2004, on completion of that investigation, the Coroner of The Queen’s Household and Coroner for Surrey, Mr Michael Burgess, opened the Inquest proceedings. These proceedings were then adjourned while Lord Stevens completed his report. Now that Lord Stevens has published his report, the Inquest has been reconvened with Lord Justice Scott Baker as Assistant Deputy Coroner for Surrey and Deputy Coroner of The Queen’s Household.
Where will the proceedings be held?
The Inquest hearings, which started on 2 October 2007, are being held in Court 73 at the Royal Courts of Justice, on the Strand in London.
Will the media have access?
Yes. A limited number of media seats for all hearings will be allocated through the Judicial Communications Office. A Court annex, with audio and visual links, has been provided to offer additional accommodation.
To apply for a seating pass, reporters and newsdesks should contact the Judicial Communications Office on 020 7073 1709 or by email.
Those attending the Inquests should note that both the courtroom and the court annex are subject to the same restrictions as would apply to normal court proceedings. When the court is sitting the use of mobile telephones, Blackberries, recording equipment, cameras and personal stereos is strictly prohibited. Smoking eating and drinking is also restricted to designated areas within the Royal Courts of Justice complex.
Will the public have access?
Yes. Seats for the court will be decided on a first come first served basis. One-day seating passes for the court will be available from the usher in the court annex. Given the size of the courtroom (and the need to accommodate interested persons, the jury and media representatives), space will by necessity be limited. Additional accomodation with audio and visual links to the court is available in the court annex.
On days when the Inquests are sitting members of the public should enter the Royal Courts of Justice via the Bell Yard North entrance. The gates will open approximately 30 minutes before the Inquests begin. Those first in the queue will be allocated a seat in the courtroom, while the remainder - up to a maximum of 150 - will be allocated a seat in the court annex.
Those attending the Inquests should note that both the courtroom and the court annex are subject to the same restrictions as would apply to normal court proceedings. When the court is sitting the use of mobile telephones, blackberries, recording equipment, cameras and personal stereos is strictly prohibited. Smoking eating and drinking is also restricted to designated areas within the Royal Courts of Justice complex.
Will the transcripts of proceedings and evidence be made public?
The Assistant Deputy Coroner has said that he intends to publish on this website all evidence heard and seen by the jury during the course of proceedings. It is envisaged that this will take place on a twice daily basis.
Will the two inquests be heard together or separately?
At the pre-Inquest meeting on 8 January 2007, Baroness Butler-Sloss, the then Deputy Coroner, ruled that both Inquests will be held concurrently as a single Inquest.
Who can be called to give evidence in an inquest?
The Coroner is solely responsible for identifying the witnesses to be heard. Witnesses who may be called to give evidence will include those people who can provide material and relevant evidence to help the Coroner to establish the facts they require.
Can witnesses be compelled to attend or provide evidence for an inquest?
The Coroner can compel witnesses to give evidence if they are in the jurisdiction and are properly summonsed. If witnesses are outside the jurisdiction the Coroner can ask the authorities concerned to exercise their powers, which may vary according to the relevant jurisdiction.
What are the possible outcomes in an Inquest?
Inquests do not determine blame and the verdict must not identify someone as having criminal or civil liability.
Possible verdicts include: natural causes, accident, suicide, unlawful or lawful killing, industrial disease, and open verdicts (where there is insufficient evidence for any other verdict). There may also be a narrative verdict which sets out in narrative form how the person died.
The Coroner may also report the death to any appropriate person or authority, if action is needed to prevent more deaths in similar circumstances.
Who may take part in and can be represented at an Inquest?
Anyone who has what is called "a proper interest" may question a witness at the Inquest. They can be:
The interested persons for the Inquests into the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Al Fayed were determined by Baroness Butler-Sloss in January 2007 and appear in paragraphs 6 and 7 of her 8 January 2007 decision.
How will the jury be selected?
The procedure for summoning of juries for coroners’ courts is set out in the Coroners Act 1988.
Those selected for jury service must live within the relevant Administrative Area, which for present purposes is Greater London. As a matter of convenience, the Assistant Deputy Coroner is summoning jurors from his particular district (Inner West London) which comprises the London Boroughs of Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea, Wandsworth and Merton.
Jurors must be eligible for jury service (for example people serving prison sentences or having mental disorders are not eligible) as defined in the Juries Act 1974, as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 2003.
Potential jurors are asked “such questions as (the appropriate officer) thinks fit in order to establish whether or not the person is qualified to serve as a juror at an inquest.”
For these inquests, Lord Justice Scott Baker has provided the jurors with an introductory address, and they were then asked to complete a juror questionnaire. Copies of the questionnaire were made available in the Court annex – the legal representatives of the interested persons were consulted in its preparation – after they had been completed by all sets of potential jurors.
The jury summoning process on 27 September 2007 produced a shortlist of eligible jurors, and then the jurors to serve on the inquests were determined and sworn in on 2 October 2007, the opening day of full proceedings.
Does the jury have be to unanimous in its verdict?
The jury will be asked by the Deputy Coroner to produce unanimous verdicts. Should that not prove possible, the Deputy Coroner will advise the jury on how it might reach majority verdicts. If the minority consists of not more than two jurors, the coroner may accept the verdict of the majority, and the majority shall, in that case, certify the verdict. So for a jury of 11, a majority of 9-2 would suffice.