Emma Fraser died on 28 June 2020 after falling from the window of her flat. The inquest into her death found that Emma had died of traumatic brain injuries when she “launched herself from a second-floor window at her home, having consumed cannabis a few hours earlier and reacted very badly”.

The coroner concluded that when she fell from the window of her flat, she had been in a state of “drug-fuelled anxiety, paranoia and delusion”. The coroner entered a short form conclusion in her record of inquest as a “drug related death”.

This conclusion was reported in the local press and devastated Emma’s family, who felt that Emma had been stigmatised as an abuser of drugs and were convinced that a bad reaction to drugs played no part in her death.

Her uncle, Karl, contacted 70 law firms for help but was told that the prospects of turning over an inquest verdict were minimal. Then, a friend of Emma’s who was a law student, suggested to Karl that he contact Advocate for advice.

Advocate found barristers Rory Brown from 9 Stone Buildings and Harriet Wakeman from Temple Garden Chambers who were willing to take the case on a pro bono basis, and they prepared an application for judicial review challenging the coroner’s decision.

The application argued that the coroner’s conclusion that Emma’s death was drug related was irrational because:

  • There was no adequate evidence for the conclusion that the cannabis Emma consumed caused the psychotic episode that Emma experienced.
  • There was evidence from which a rational person could conclude that Emma’s death was an accident.
  • The coroner failed to have proper regard to the relevant authorities and guidance for coroners relating to returning a conclusion of “drug related death”.

The result was that the coroner agreed to an order of the High Court quashing his verdict and to remove all references to drug consumption from the record of inquest. In addition, Emma’s death was declared to be an accident, rather than drug related.

The outcome was a huge relief to Emma’s uncle Karl, who said: “Advocate helped us restore family history, so if ever someone does a family tree, they won’t find a drug related death and the negativity that comes with that.

Because the verdict was changed, the police are now holding a review of Emma’s case and may look into it further.

Karl said of Rory and Harriet’s involvement: “They were such lovely people, nothing was too much trouble. Both barristers, and Rory’s clerk, [David Clayton], put so much work into the case. We are forever grateful.”

Rory said: "It was a pleasure representing these courageous clients. They were correct that the Coroner had arrived at a conclusion about the causes of Emma’s death which was unsupported by the evidence. I am pleased that Harriet and I were able to assist them in overturning the Coroner’s verdict and replacing it with the appropriate conclusion that Emma’s death was an accident.”

Harriet said: “It was a privilege to assist Emma’s family and to work with Rory and Advocate on this case. I’m so glad we were able to help Emma’s family to achieve this result. Cases like this really demonstrate how pro bono assistance, through Advocate, can make a real difference.”