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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Open verdict is an option open to a Coroner's jury at an Inquest in the legal system of England and Wales. The verdict strictly means that the jury confirms that the death is suspicious but is unable to reach any of the other verdicts open to them. It therefore affirms that a crime has been committed without stating by whom.[1] Mortality studies consider it likely that the majority of open verdicts are recorded in cases of suicide where the intent of the deceased could not be proved,[2] although the verdict is recorded in many other circumstances.



Two Lords Chief Justice have cautioned that the verdict does not mean that the jury is failing to do their duty of explaining the cause of death, but that in some cases there is real doubt about how the death came about.[3] However, the uncertainty explicit in the verdict has led many to regard it as an unsatisfactory one.[4] Current legal guidance is to avoid open verdicts if possible:

It should be noted that an open verdict is thus only to be used in the last resort if there is insufficient evidence to enable the coroner or the jury to reach one of the other conclusions. The fact that there may be uncertainty as to other parts of the inquisition, for example as to the precise cause, time or place of death, does not authorise recording an open verdict if there is sufficient evidence to record how the deceased came by his death. In other words, the coroner or jury should not fail to reach a positive conclusion merely because there is some doubt on some minor point.

—"Jervis on Coroners", 11th ed. (Sweet & Maxwell, 1993), p. 253, paragraph 13(32)

Standard of proof

In an obiter dictum (legal opinion not forming part of the judgment) in the case of R v West London Coroner, ex parte Gray in 1986, the divisional court stated that the open verdict was, as with the verdicts of unlawful killing and suicide, required to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.[5] However, the fact that a verdict of suicide requires "some evidence that the deceased intended to take his own life" means that open verdicts are often recorded in cases where suicide is suspected but the evidence of intent is lacking. For this reason some studies of suicides have also included those deaths in which open verdicts were recorded. [2]

Notable open verdicts

The 1978 death of Keith Moon, drummer for the Who, was given an open verdict, with the inquest being unable to determine if his death was accidental or the result of suicide.

In 1982, the jury returned an open verdict on the death of Helen Smith, a British nurse who had fallen to her death in Saudi Arabia during a party;[6] this was interpreted as a rejection of the theory that Smith had accidentally fallen, and a victory for her father Ron Smith's claim that she had been killed.[7]

Two successive inquests, in May 1981 and May 2004, have returned open verdicts on the victims of the New Cross Fire in which 13 black teenagers were killed by a fire at a birthday party. The families of the victims have long believed that the fire was started deliberately, possibly as a racist attack, and the verdict was interpreted as a rejection of that theory and a tentative endorsement of forensic findings that the fire was started accidentally.[8]

The inquest into the death of Jean-Charles de Menezes, who was shot dead in 2005 by Metropolitan Police officers who mistakenly believed him to be a suicide bomber, returned an open verdict in December 2008. The coroner had specifically directed them that they were not able to return a verdict of unlawful killing, and left them the alternatives of the open verdict or ruling the killing lawful,[9] and the verdict (together with the answers to an associated questionnaire given to the jury) was interpreted as a condemnation of the police.[10]

The mysterious death of Bob Woolmer on March 18, 2007, a pakistan cricket coach, was given an open verdict on November 28, 2007, with the inquest after hearing from more than 50 witnesses over five weeks being unable to determine if his death was due to strangulation theory put forward by Dr. Ere Seshaiah or due to natural causes.[11][12]


  1. ^ a b K. R. Linsley, Kurt Schapira, T. P. Kelly, "Open verdict v. suicide - importance to research", British Journal of Psychiatry (2001) 178:465-468.
  2. ^ June Tweedie and Tony Ward, "The Gibraltar Shootings and the Politics of Inquests", Journal of Law and Society vol. 16 no. 4 (Winter 1989), p. 472.
  3. ^ See, for example Jon J. Nordby PhD, "Dead Reckoning: The Art of Forensic Detection", CRC Press, 1999, p. 243: "An open verdict satisfies no one."
  4. ^ June Tweedie and Tony Ward, "The Gibraltar Shootings and the Politics of Inquests", Journal of Law and Society vol. 16 no. 4 (Winter 1989), p. 471.
  5. ^ Michael Horsnell, "Smith presses for inquiry after an open verdict", The Times, 10 December 1982, p. 1.
  6. ^ See Paul Foot, "The Helen Smith Story", Fontana Paperbacks, 1983, especially pages 389 to 398.
  7. ^ "Open verdicts on New Cross fire", BBC News online, 6 May 2004.
  8. ^ "Open verdict at Menezes inquest", BBC News Online, 12 December 2008.
  9. ^ Sean O'Neill, "Jean Charles de Menezes jury condemns police", The Times, 13 December 2008, p. 1.
  10. ^
  11. ^


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