Article 2 and children in care: R (Boyce) v HM Senior Coroner for Teesside and Hartlepool  EWHC 107 (Admin) (21 January 2022)
The facts of the case can be summarised as follows: Grace Ann Peers was 15 years old when she committed suicide in the care of a private children’s home (Farm House) where she had been placed by Middlesbrough Borough Council. In the course of the Inquest proceedings, the Coroner ruled that Article 2 was not engaged and it was this decision that was the primary focus of the subsequent judicial review. The grounds of review included: (1) that Article 2 should have applied automatically as it does to those in custody or detained under the Mental Health Act, as Grace was in state detention being under the care of the local authority; (2) that Article 2 was engaged as there had been an arguable breach of the systemic duty resulting from failures in care; and (3) the Coroner was wrong to hold that, where Article 2 does not apply, the only material effect is on the conclusions which may be returned rather than on the scope.
In respect of ground (1) the court held that a children’s home did not amount to state detention. As the recent case of Morahan carefully sets out, informal patients do not fall under the category of cases where Article 2 automatically arises. The Court found that the private children’s home Grace was placed in had no powers of compulsion or detention. Neither was there was a care order in favour of the home. There was a very real and obvious difference between a child in secure accommodation, who has been deprived of their liberty, and a child in care who is free to come and go. Indeed, the court also noted that for the purposes of the Human Rights Act 1998 (YL v Birmingham City Council  1 AC 95 applied) a private children’s home is not a public authority.
In respect of ground (2), the court found that whilst there were systemic failures (as demonstrated by expert evidence and an Ofsted report), on the facts of the case the required threshold for causation was not met, namely that Grace had lost a substantial chance of surviving because of theses failures.
Finally, in respect of ground (3), the Court held that there is no difference between Article 2 and non-Article 2 inquests in relation to scope. Inquest hearings should address the broad circumstances of a death especially if there is a possibility that Article 2 may become relevant in the future. In those circumstances the enquiry should be “broad enough to the cover the ground for the coroner or jury to make the necessary conclusions”.
Following Morahan, this case plainly places limits on the category of cases where the Article 2 duty applies automatically. It is a clear authority for the contention that Article 2 is not engaged automatically in respect of children placed in children’s homes. For the duty to arise automatically, a form of detention such as secure accommodation, is required. The proposition that there is no difference between Article 2 and non-Article 2 inquests in relation to scope will undoubtedly be helpful for those wishing to broaden the scope of non-Article 2 inquests.