Stewarts’ Aviation team represented families of the victims of the Shoreham Airshow disaster with counsel, Gerard Forlin QC and Kirsten Heaven, at the sixth pre-inquest review, which was held remotely on 24 June 2020 to comply with social distancing requirements. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), Canfield Hunter Limited and the Sussex Police also attended the review.
The inquests are investigating the cause and circumstances surrounding the deaths of 11 men who tragically lost their lives at Shoreham Airshow on 22 August 2015, when a Hawker Hunter aircraft performing at the air show failed to exit a loop manoeuvre and crashed onto the adjacent A27 road.
A pre-hearing meeting with counsel to the inquest was convened immediately prior to the hearing. This was attended by the legal representatives and relatives of the victims in order to explore and attempt to narrow down issues on the agenda. Discussions centred on the unresolved issue of the disclosure of “protected material”, including material that was obtained during the criminal investigation but not used.
The issue of protected material in aviation is shrouded in legal complexity by virtue of the strict provisions that regulate it. These are Article 14 of the European Regulation 996/2010 and Regulation 25 of The Civil Aviation (Investigation of Accidents and Incidents) Regulations 2018 No 321, which incorporates and enforces Article 14 under English law. Breaches of these regulations can have serious consequences, including at the most serious end of the spectrum possible criminal sanctions for contempt of court.
Shortly after opening the remote pre-inquest review, Senior Coroner Penelope Schofield confirmed that the inquests, which were due to begin in September/October 2020, will be adjourned until autumn 2021. This is to allow time for further improvement in respect of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and for any applications to the High Court for disclosure of protected material that may be required.
The issue of disclosure of protected material was explored again at length during the pre-inquest review. The parties discussed whether the disclosure of some material from the criminal investigation, including transcripts of the witness evidence, constituted a breach of the above regulations. Senior Coroner Schofield did not make any ruling in this respect but confirmed that clarifications would be sought from the criminal trial judge, Mr Justice Edis, as to the purpose for which the transcripts were disclosed to her. The answer to this question will have a direct impact on the content and the timescale of the Civil Aviation Authority’s review into the potential risk of cognitive impairment in pilots due to G forces, which is currently expected by September 2020. This review will not make any findings as to whether Mr Hill was cognitively impaired. It will not address the circumstances of the accident flight. Its purpose is to inform the CAA as to whether further/additional regulatory action is required for the prevention of future deaths.
Sarah Stewart, a partner in our Aviation team and lawyer for the families of seven of the victims of the disaster comments:
“It is of fundamental importance to the families that the process at the centre of the senior coroner’s investigation is fair. It is their strong view that it would not be fair for the senior coroner to require submissions from them nor to make any decisions which go to the core questions of these inquests until we and she have had sight of all relevant documentation in this matter.
The families hope that now that the inquests have been adjourned until autumn 2021 the senior coroner will have the opportunity to make the relevant applications to the High Court as she sees fit.”
The date for the next pre-inquest review has been provisionally set for November/December 2020.
This article was written by our Senior Paralegal Louisa Tagziria
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