Appeal from order setting aside verdict of a coroner’s inquest on basis that the inquest was procedurally unfair. Appeal allowed on basis that the procedural deficiencies did not support quashing the verdict. Verdict reinstated.
Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Coroner – Coroner’s inquest – Evidence – Judicial review – Parties – Standing – Procedural requirements and fairness
Charlie v. Canada (Attorney General),  Y.J. No. 61, 2013 YKCA 11, Yukon Territory Court of Appeal, September 12, 2013, M.E. Saunders, D.F. Tysoe, and E.A. Bennett JJ.A.
The appellant Chief Coroner conducted an inquest into the death of Mr. Silverfox in police custody. The jury returned a verdict that Mr. Silverfox’s death was from natural causes and made recommendations.
Mr. Silverfox’s family filed a petition for judicial review of the verdict in the Yukon Supreme Court. The chambers judge held the appellant’s jury charge failed to meet the duty of fairness, the manner of presenting some evidence precluded the jury from fully considering the evidence, and Mr. Silverfox’s family was denied the requisite degree of participation. These defects amounted to procedural unfairness. The chambers judge quashed the verdict.
The appellant appealed to the Yukon Court of Appeal. On appeal, as a preliminary matter, Mr. Silverfox’s family applied to strike the appeal on the basis the appellant lacked standing. They argued the appellant was not a “true party” to the judicial review proceeding and could not appeal that decision. The court held the appellant had standing to appeal because, pursuant to the Yukon Rules of Court, the appellant was a respondent and “party of record” in the judicial review proceedings. The appellant was presumptively entitled to appeal the order. The court dismissed the application to strike.
On the merits, the court held a duty of fairness adheres to the inquest, and the standard of review applicable to issues of procedural fairness is best described as a standard of “fairness.” In relation to the chambers judge’s findings, the court held:
(i) The appellant’s jury charge was not procedurally unfair, as the summation did not require a review of the evidence or an analysis of competing theories. The decision to review the evidence is a discretionary decision for the presiding coroner, who is in the best position to appreciate the need for a review of the evidence. This decision is made in light of the circumstances and the purposes of the inquest, which include obtaining a verdict, publicly airing sworn information concerning a death, and providing jurors with an opportunity to make recommendations.
(ii) The appellant’s presentation of a lengthy video of Mr. Silverfox in custody in fast forward mode was not procedurally unfair, as the entire video recording was played, was available to the jury, and the issues in contention did not include the condition of Mr. Silverfox’s cell. In the circumstances, the manner of playing the video recording did not demonstrate a procedurally unfair process.
(iii) The fact that Mr. Silverfox’s family was not provided an opportunity to address the jury was not procedurally unfair. On the basis of the scope of the presiding coroner’s discretion on procedural matters and the content of the summation to the jury such an opportunity is not required.
The court allowed the appeal and set aside the chambers judge’s order. The court held the chambers judge’s decision to quash the verdict without ordering a new inquest was contrary to the scheme of the legislation and incompatible with the purpose of an inquest to officially resolve the cause of death.
This case was digested by Joel A. Morris of Harper Grey LLP. If you would like to discuss this case further, please feel free to contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or review his biography at http://www.harpergrey.com.
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