When a defendant enters a guilty plea in a case of homicide and has been made the subject of a hospital order, the victim’s family get to hear comparatively little about the prosecution case. Speculation and uncertainty can cause a lot of psychological damage to the very people the criminal justice system is supposed to protect.
Was the death preventable? Why did the situation arise in the first place? Do systems need to change? These questions are often answered during an inquest, but when a coroner is already satisfied about who died, where, when, and how the death occurred, an inquest is not always held. The victim’s family sometimes leave the process with no real understanding of that process, and they feel the state has failed them.
We saw a reaction to this in the recent deaths of Barnaby Webber, Grace O’Malley Kumar, and Ian Coates in Nottingham. The families in that case are certainly not alone in feeling alienated by what they regard as an impenetrable and defensive justice system. Very few cases gather the kind of public momentum we are seeing in Nottingham. Victim’s’ families around the country can only hope that ears are open across all branches of the criminal justice system and the coroners’ courts. The concept of collaboration is difficult for an adversarial justice system to accept, but transparency makes for better administration of justice.