One Pump Court’s Patrick McMorrow and Sophie Walker successfully oppose the Ministry of Justice’s application to strike out one of the first cases to consider the relevance of Article 2 in the context of deaths in Approved Premises

27 Jun 2022

Devall, Corcoran v Ministry of Justice [2022] EWHC 1608 (QB)

The Secretary of State for Justice applied to the County Court for summary judgment/strike out of the Claimant’s claim for Article 2 damages following the death of her son, Billy Rye at Approved Premise in Maidstone.  The application was dismissed and the MOJ appealed to the High Court

Mr Rye was released on licence from HMP Maidstone on 28 April 2017 on the condition that he reside at the Approved Premises between 11pm and 730am.  On the day of his death, he was expected early at a family member’s house and when he did not arrive, they started to call the Approved Premises to ask that he be awoken.  Staff members went to his room three times between 9-10am but were unable to rouse him.  After a period of nearly four hours, staff again went to his room and on that occasion decided to seek medical advice calling 111.  Just before 2pm, staff noticed that Mr Rye was not breathing and an ambulance was called. Mr Rye later died in hospital.

An inquest into the death was critical of the Approved Premises (AP)’s lack of up-to-date first-aid training for staff and of the staff’s 4-hour delay in checking on Mr Rye after being unable to rouse him in the morning.  The cause of his death was pneumonia, although the low level of drugs found in his system may also have affected his central nervous system contributing to his death.


Throughout the litigation, first in the Coroner’s Court, then in the County Court and most recently in the High Court, the Secretary of State for Justice argued that it had not assumed any responsibility for Mr Rye while he was at the AP, as they had no direct knowledge of  the illness that led to his death which they had no knowledge of.   Regarding the operational duty, the Secretary of State denied any such obligation arose in his case, as Mr Rye was not locked in his room unless by choice and would be free to come and go.

The Court therefore had to turn its mind to two important new cases that are re-shaping inquest law, R (Maguire) v Blackpool and Fylde Senior Coroner [2020] EWCA Civ 738 and R (Morahan) v West London Assistant Coroner [2021] EWHC 1603 (Admin). The thrust of both those decisions is that a public authority may owe a duty to protect certain people from harm, but only where that harm is within their control and is foreseeable.

In Mr Rye’s case, the Secretary of State for Justice argued, it was not foreseeable that Mr Rye had faced a real and immediate risk of death from a cause that the Approved Premises ought to be aware.

In dismissing the appeal, the Court first noted that the operational duty of Article 2 “continues to be an evolving area of law whose boundaries are not fixed see Rabone at [22] and Morahan at [40]”.   Words that should reassure practitioners of inquest law, given recent judicial comment seeming to trend in the other direction.

Turning to Article 2, the Court found that the claim would not necessarily be defeated due to Mr Rye being accommodated at an Approved Premises (as opposed to a prison or in-patient facility), nor that at the time when Mr Rye was found by the staff he was no longer under curfew.

Rather, the Court was “satisfied that there is a real prospect of success for the contentions that the Defendant assumed responsibility for the welfare of Mr Rye and that its scope extended to protection from self-harm and drug (ab)use . . . To that end I consider it properly arguable that the requirement for those on licence to reside in Approved Premises involves a sufficient form of State control outside the ‘paradigm examples’ identified by the Court (Rabone; Gardner); and that potential support for the scope of the responsibility/duty may be provided” [90].

The court referenced the AP Manual and its relevant annex on reducing drug-related deaths that states “Drug-using residents are at an increased risk of drug-related death following their release from custody” and that the risks are higher in the first few days or weeks after release (D23).

During the hearing, Counsel for the family brought these confronting statements to the Court’s attention to demonstrate that drug-related deaths are all too foreseeable to the staff at the Approved Premises and when staff were unable to rouse Mr Rye, they should have sought immediate medical attention for him.

While this case came to the High Court by way of a strike-out application, rather than a challenge to Coroner’s decision on the engagement of Article 2, it is useful to inquest practitioners making submissions where the deceased was under the purview of probation at the time of their death. The lack a custodial setting does not mean Article 2 can be discounted.

Additionally, parallels can be drawn to circumstances where an immigration detainee is granted bail accommodation by the Home Office, particularly if that person is under curfew as a condition of their bail.

Recent reports have highlighted the tragically high number of deaths of asylum seekers in Home Office accommodation.  It is hoped that this case may make it  easier to argue that those deaths like Mr Rye’s require the full scrutiny of a Middleton inquest and that by holding these government departments to account, it is possible to avoid unnecessary deaths for these vulnerable populations.

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