18 March 2024

INQUEST was so proud to attend the launch on 21 February of our new joint guide with JUSTICE on addressing racism at inquests.  

The guide, titled ‘Achieving Racial Justice at inquests’, 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 of deaths in state custody. 

Attendees at the launch event, held at Morrison Foerster, heard from an esteemed panel featuring Leslie Thomas KC of Garden Court Chambers, Karon Monaghan KC of Matrix Chambers, Christian Weaver of Garden Court North Chambers, Deborah Coles of INQUEST, all of whom sat on the advisory board that produced the guide, in addition to bereaved family member and campaigner Marcia Rigg.  

The evening opened with a speech by Deborah Coles, who spoke to how the guide was born in part out of INQUEST’s recent research, as both the 2022 report on the deaths of Black and racialised people in prison and 2023 report on the deaths of Black people in police custody highlighting how the potential role of racism was absent from post-death investigations. This, despite the UK having a seemingly advanced framework for investigating deaths in state custody and the fact that the deaths of Black and racialised people are some of the most violent, neglectful and contentious of all deaths in state custody.  

Following on, Leslie Thomas KC recounted his own experiences throughout his decades long career of representing bereaved families of young Black men and women who had died in police custody at inquests, where too often, there was great reluctance and resistance to address the relevance of race. He expressed how this guide also emanates from the pressing need for a comprehensive resource to aid lawyers and coroners in navigating the complexities of investigating racism in deaths in state custody.  

Karon Monaghan KC, who has also represented bereaved families at inquests and has sat as an assistant coroner, drew attention to the fact that even though Black and racialised people experience some of the most egregious treatment in state custody, even for the most experienced of lawyers, raising and addressing racism at an inquest can prove difficult and complex. She made clear that this guide is a meaningful step in ensuring that lawyers can confidently and successfully put race on the agenda. 

Christian Weaver, made clear the need for this guide so that people can recognise how racism can manifest and play out in a death in state custody. In his own words, he said,   

“It may not be as blatant as somebody saying a racial slur. It might not be as blatant as a clear single act of discrimination. But a culmination of things that make it clear that racism very possibly was at play in the person’s death.” 

Christian also spoke to the wider importance of the guide, stressing how whilst racism exists in broader society, it is imperative that our courtrooms are equipped to address and combat it effectively.  

Marcia Rigg, whose brother’s death at the hands of the police and investigation is included in the guide, read out the family afterword which she, Aji Lewis and Louise Rowland co-wrote. Of particular poignance, it read,  

“Though we cannot change that the role of racism was sadly overlooked by the courts in our loved one’s deaths, we greatly hope that this guide will remedy this injustice so other families will not suffer as we did. Whilst the guide in and of itself is significant, the real power will be in its implementation.” 

The event was well attended by solicitors and barristers alike, from firms such as Bhatt Murphy, student lawyers, and human rights NGOs such as Liberty,who were eager to learn how the guide could be disseminated across institutions to promote its implementation and shared how, as practitioners, the guide would be put into practice.