As is a matter of public record, I act for Dr Philip Rowlands, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, in relation to the forthcoming Coroner’s Inquest into the death of Ms McLevie at Osborne Park Hospital, in April 2006, 30 or so hours after she gave birth to a child at such hospital.  On any analysis a sad and tragic case.

In the course of preparing for such inquest, I came across an interesting recent case dealing with the Coroner’s obligations and so called ‘adverse findings,’ made by him, the important issue of giving warning to persons before such findings are made against them and the capacity to challenge such findings (Re: the State Coroner ex parte Min for Health [2009] WASCA 165, delivered by the Court of Appeal (WA) 18 Sept 2009).

It is well known that in conducting his investigation, the coroner is not bound by the rules of evidence (section 41) and effectively has broad power as to the information (and sources of information) he considers and the use he makes of such information.

The case is a typically thorough summary of the coronial process, lead by Buss JA.  It is worth review by anyone involved in these inevitably tragic cases.

The end result was ‘bitter sweet’ for the relevant medical practitioner concerned in this case.  It is notable that such psychiatrist did not bring the appeal – this was brought by her employer, the Minister for Health.

On appeal it was established that the initial Supreme Court judge had erred, in concluding the relevant coroner’s conclusions that ‘with hindsight‘ the relevant psychiatrist, could have avoided the deceased’s death via a community treatment order ("CTO") to ensure the deceased took his medication required to control his psychiatric state (and avoid psychotic episodes, such as lead to his death), were not adverse to such psychiatrist (ie the Court of Appeal accepted such comments were adverse to the psychiatrist and presumably her employer).

The Court of Appeal however concluded that the Coroner was entitled to make such finding on the evidence and no error was shown in such conclusion.  In other words, the adverse finding stands.