Court of Appeal: Damages awarded to Jordan family reduced on appeal
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has won an appeal against a £7,500 damages award over delays in progressing the inquest of the death of Pearse Jordan.
The Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, found that the trial judge had failed to differentiate between the period of delay for which the PSNI was culpable and the period when other factors contributed to the delay.
Finding that the PSNI was culpable for a shorter period, Lord Chief Justice Morgan reduced the award to the Jordan family to £5,000.
Patrick Pearse Jordan was 22 years old when he was fatally shot by a member of the RUC in Belfast in 1992. He was unarmed and was shot in the back as he ran from the car he was driving.
Pearse’s father, Hugh Jordan, made an application to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in 1994, complaining that the failure to carry out a prompt and effective investigation into Pearse’s death was in violation of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 2 of the ECHR requires that where a person dies at the hands of police or the armed forces, there must be a prompt investigation into the circumstances of the death.
In 1995, an inquest commenced but was adjourned shortly afterwards and was never completed. In 2001, the ECtHR awarded £10,000 in damages (Jordan v UK (2003) 37 EHRR 2).
In 2013, Hugh Jordan commenced the present proceedings, seeking declarations that the Coroner and the PSNI were responsible for delay in commencing the inquest in violation of Article 2. He also sought damages pursuant to section 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 in respect of the delay from 2001 to 2012. (Pearse’s mother, Teresa Jordan, has since taken over the conduct of the proceedings)
In the High Court in 2014, Mr Justice Ben Stephens upheld the claim against the PSNI, finding that there had been a series of failures to disclose relevant information until compelled to do so, and also a delay in commencing a process of risk assessment relating to the anonymity of witnesses. Mr Justice Stephens made a declaration that the PSNI “delayed progress of the Pearse Jordan inquest in breach of article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and contrary to section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998”, and awarded damages of £7,500.
Court of Appeal
The PSNI appealed against the award of damages for delay. Noting that the relevant period of delay in this case was from 2001 until 2012, Lord Chief Justice Morgan said that from 2002 until 2007 there was ongoing litigation concerning the obligation of the PSNI under section 8 of the Coroners Act (Northern Ireland) 1959 to supply to the coroner such information as they had at the time of notifying him of the death or were thereafter able to obtain.
The PSNI had been successful in limiting that obligation, and Lord Chief Justice Morgan said that although the PSNI resisted disclosure of documentation during this period, and that its position was found to be in breach of section 8 of the Coroners Act (Northern Ireland) 1959 – it did not follow that the PSNI were responsible for delay in breach of the procedural obligation under Article 2.
Mr Justice Stephens had not made a finding that the PSNI was responsible for delay in breach of section 6 of the HRA in the period between 2002 and 2007, and it was noted that during this period, “the PSNI was legitimately pursuing legal proceedings in order to establish clarity about its obligations”. Accepting the Jordan family’s “frustration as a result of the delay during this period” Lord Chief Justice Morgan said the PSNI could not “be made responsible for culpable delay arising from the prolongation of proceedings in which it appears to have engaged appropriately”.
Noting that Mr Justice Stephens made no express finding that “the lack of clarity on the duty on the PSNI under section 8 of the 1959 Act called into question whether the inquest system was at the relevant time structurally capable of providing for both speed and effective access for the Jordan family”, Lord Chief Justice Morgan said there was considerable evidence to support that contention and that if such a finding was made it would have highlighted the need for revising legislation.
Relevant period of unlawful delay
In all the circumstances, Lord Chief Justice Morgan was satisfied that the only period in respect of which there was unlawful delay in breach of Article 2 for which the PSNI was responsible was from March 2007 until the relevant documents were provided in May 2008.
Lord Chief Justice Morgan said the court had to consider whether Mr Justice Stephens:
- Made his award in respect of the period from March 2007 until May 2008;
- Was correct in finding it necessary to afford just satisfaction to the Jordan family and appropriately made the award of damages against the PSNI.
Firstly, Lord Chief Justice Morgan was satisfied that Mr Justice Stephens did not differentiate between those periods where there was culpable delay by the PSNI and those where other factors contributed to the delay, and imposed liability on the PSNI for the entirety of the period from 2001 until 2012.
Secondly, Lord Chief Justice Morgan accepted that Ms Jordan would have suffered feelings of frustration, anxiety and distress as a result of the ongoing litigation up to March 2007 and that the persisting failure of the PSNI to honour its legal obligations in the period up to May 2008 would have exacerbated those feelings:
“In our view the frustration and distress caused by such conduct against a background of very lengthy delay made it just and appropriate to afford just satisfaction by way of damages. The level of damages had to take into account the relatively short period for which the PSNI was responsible and the fact that the family of the deceased had already received an earlier pecuniary award. We consider that an award of £5,000 is consistent with awards for failure to act with promptitude in other cases from this jurisdiction and we substitute that figure for the sum allowed by the trial judge.”
© Irish Legal News Ltd 2021