21 February 2024

This guide provides lawyers representing families bereaved by deaths in police custody, prisons, immigration detention, and mental health settings with the legal expertise to raise the potential role of race and racism at inquests. It also provides foundational knowledge and strategy to coroners to ensure they satisfy their duty in fully investigating the circumstances in state custody deaths. 

Achieving Racial Justice at Inquests is a joint guide developed by human rights charities JUSTICE and INQUEST together with legal experts, academics, and bereaved families. 

As the deaths of Black and racialised people are some of the most violent, neglectful and contentious of all deaths in state custody, the question of whether racism contributed to the treatment of a loved one is invariably in the minds of Black and racialised families. Yet inquests rarely ever address race or racism. 

For bereaved families, inquests present key opportunities to find out how and why their loved one died. The failure to explore issues of race and racism not only stops families from learning the truth, but prevents potentially life-saving issues from being identified and addressed. 

This new guide equips lawyers and coroners with the tools to recognise, raise, evidence and investigate issues of race and racism. 

The continued failure of inquests to examine the potential role of race and racism in deaths in state custody puts lives at risk. This new guide aims to achieve truth, justice and accountability for bereaved families and prevent further people from dying in state custody. 

Professor Leslie Thomas KC, leading expert on inquests and public inquiries, says: 

“Ensuring accountability and justice in cases of deaths in state custody is paramount. Yet, too often, inquests overlook the critical factor of race, particularly when Black and racialised individuals are involved. By ignoring or sidestepping this issue, they neglect to confront the systemic racism embedded in policies and practices that endanger lives.

“This guide will ensure race is no longer the elephant in the room in these investigations. Publicly acknowledging and investigating issues of racism are necessary first steps towards achieving justice and preventing further harm.”

Fiona Rutherford, Chief Executive of JUSTICE, says:

“Inquests are key to achieving justice, learning lessons, and repairing trust when someone dies in state custody, whatever their skin colour. Yet failures to investigate the potential role race and racism plays are blocking this search for truth.  

“Lawyers and coroners can change this; given the tools and confidence, they have a vital role to play in helping to uncover the truth, achieve racial justice, and save future lives.”

Deborah Coles, Executive Director of INQUEST, says:

“The evidence of racial inequality in state institutions is glaring and undeniable. INQUEST’s casework shows the deaths of Black and racialised people are some of the most violent, contentious, and neglectful of all deaths in state custody.

“Despite this, inquests and post death investigations continually fail to investigate the potential role of racism, rendering racism invisible in the official narratives. This precludes the possibility of accountability and change – and most significantly – the prevention of future deaths.

“This guide is a step towards addressing this by arming professionals with the skills, strategy, and knowledge to challenge these issues.”

His Honor Judge Mark Lucraft KC, Chief Coroner of England & Wales from 2016-2020:

“This important guide equips practitioners and coroners to recognise, raise and investigate issues of race or racism when they arise, sensitively and without reticence. It is an invaluable resource, not only for promoting racial justice, but for improving fact finding, increasing racial awareness, and providing better representation to families.”