14 Feb 2019

Waikato DHB application for fresh Nicky Stevens inquiry about money, not justice - QC

8:26 am on 14 February 2019

A Waikato DHB application for a fresh coronial inquiry into Nicky Stevens' death is being driven by concerns about liabilities and is not in the interests of justice, one of the country's leading lawyers has said.

Jane Stevens' son Nicky, 21, killed himself after he was let out on an unsupervised smoke break while he was on suicide watch.

Jane Stevens' son Nicky, 21, killed himself after he was let out on an unsupervised smoke break while he was on suicide watch. Photo: Supplied / Jane Stevens

The decision by Coroner Wallace Bain late last year found that 21-year-old Nicky Stevens' death was a preventable suicide.

However, the Waikato DHB has now applied to the Solicitor-General's Office to have a new coroner appointed to conduct another inquiry into Mr Stevens' death.

The DHB said it would not respond to the family's concerns further than reiterating its statement from last week.

In the statement, it said it responded to the Coroner's draft report last year with a "considerable number of procedural concerns", which it said were not all acknowledged in the final report.

"Our insurer has instructed the DHB's external counsel to raise concerns about the coroner's process with the Solicitor General, with our support. None of our decisions in this matter have been taken lightly as we understand this has already been a lengthy and painful process for the family."

The Coroner's Act states that an inquiry can be reopened because of, "fraud, rejection of evidence, irregularity of proceedings, or discovery of new facts, or, for any other sufficient reason."

Nigel Hampton QC said it appears the Waikato DHB are applying on the grounds of "irregularity of proceedings".

"That is very unusual - I have never heard, or seen of that being done in the past."

"I cannot envisage that an experienced coroner, such as the one here, would've gone so far off course as to commit what would have to be a serious irregularity of the proceedings."

That fact the DHB decision to reapply was at the request of its insurers was also a concern, Mr Hampton said.

"I'd have thought that the insurers should not overtly, at least, play a part in what's going on here.

"It is not as if it is a claim in relation to factual matters and overall justice, it seems to be financial matters driving the matter in trying to find a way to set aside a coroner's verdict.

"If it was interests of justice being the driver, I might well have another view, but it doesn't seem to be - it is financial considerations that are the driver."

Crown Law said in a statement that the "overriding consideration" for opening a new inquiry is whether it "is necessary or desirable in the interests of justice".

It said that requests for a new coroner to be appointed to any new inquiry had been made in the past but were "less common" than requests for new inquiries.

The Coroners Act does not specify grounds for which a new coroner should be appointed.

A new inquiry would be undertaken on paper and no hearing would be held, the Crown Law statement said.

It could not say when a decision would be made, as it had not yet received the relevant files, but said that these decision can take some months.

Waikato DHB has been approached to respond to Mr Hampton's comments.

Where to get help:

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