The decision has wide implications in view of the growing practice among juries to resort to verdicts in which 'lack of care' is deemed to have been a factor. Verdicts of this kind, which may impute responsibility to people facing civil or criminal action in the wake of a death, are unacceptable, the three judges said.
Sir Thomas Bingham, the Master of the Rolls, sitting with Lords Justices McCowan and Hirst, urged this new restraint after rejecting an appeal attacking the conduct of a 1991 inquest into the death of Michael Jamieson, 33, a convicted murderer while in a cell at Full Sutton Prison, York.
They said it was not an inquest jury's function 'to apportion guilt or attribute blame' and to do so would be unfair on those who might face criminal proceedings arising out of a death.
Roy Jamieson, of Newham, east London, brother of the dead man, accused Peter Gladwin, the North Humberside coroner, of wrongly preventing a jury from deciding whether there had been 'lack of care' by the prison authorities.
Michael Jamieson was serving a sentence of at least 30 years for murder and other offences including armed burglary. His brother alleged that, in clear breach of Home Office rules, Michael was left alone in a single cell without supervision even though it was known that he was suicidal.
The judges said Roy Jamieson was suggesting that the doctors and the prison authorities 'gave the deceased an opportunity to take his own life'. Even if that was accepted that case could not support a verdict that neglect contributed to the suicide, they said.