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Court of Appeal delivers landmark ruling in state detention inquest case - reaction

26 January 2017
The Court of Appeal has today (26 January) ruled that a woman with a learning disability who died whilst in the intensive care unit of a hospital was not considered to be in ‘state detention’ and upheld a coroner’s decision not to proceed with a full inquest into her death.

In Ferreira v Coroner of Inner South London the Court of Appeal’s landmark judgment on deprivation of liberty (DoL) in the context of acute medical treatment will be welcomed by providers of physical healthcare.

Maria Ferreira, who suffered from Down’s syndrome, was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at Kings College Hospital where she later died in December 2013.
However, an inquest into her death has still not been held due to a dispute about whether it should be held with or without a jury.

The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 requires that a death while in ‘state detention’ which is either unnatural, violent or the cause of death is unknown must be subject to an inquest with a jury.

The senior coroner decided that Maria was not deprived of her liberty and therefore not in 'state detention' at the time of her death, so there was no requirement for an inquest with a jury.  Luisa Ferreira, Maria’s sister, has sought to overturn an earlier High Court ruling that upheld the coroner’s decision that her sister did not die whilst in ‘state detention’.

Browne Jacobson solicitors acted for the Intensive Care Society and Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine who were intervening parties in the case.

Ben Troke, a partner at Browne Jacobson, who advised the Intensive Care Society and Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, said:

“This is an important decision for all NHS and independent providers that offer in patient physical healthcare because it seems to establish that any treatment of physical health will not in itself constitute a deprivation of liberty, where it is the same treatment that would be given to any patient, regardless of their capacity.

For now, pending any further appeal to the Supreme Court, healthcare providers, and probably the local authorities currently dealing with the colossal backlog of Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards referrals, will be delighted and find this judgment grounded in common sense and hugely welcome.”


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