The New Brunswick Court of Appeal has overturned a judge's decision that would have allowed lawyers for the Saint John Regional Hospital and two doctors to ask questions at a coroner's inquest into the death of psychiatric patient Serena Perry.
"The appeal is allowed. The decision of the judge on the application for judicial review is set aside and the decision of the Chief Coroner is reinstated," the three-judge appeal panel stated in its decision on Thursday.
Reasons will be given at a later date, it said.
Perry, 22, was under the care of the psychiatric unit when her body was discovered in the hospital's amphitheatre on Feb. 14, 2012.
Saint John police had investigated the death as a homicide, but announced last June no charges would be laid.
Although police had a suspect — a male patient who was also under the care of the psychiatric unit — a forensic examination could not determine Perry's cause of death, they said.
The coroner's inquest will determine the facts surrounding Perry's death by hearing evidence from witnesses.
In February, Justice Hugh McLellan, of the Court of Queen's Bench, ruled the hospital, psychologist Dr. Pamela Forsythe and pathologist Dr. Mohammed Hossain should have third-party standing at the inquest, giving their lawyers the right to call their own witnesses and cross-examine those called by others.
Traditionally, only lawyers for the coroner's office are allowed to ask questions during an inquest.
Chief Coroner Gregory Forestell and presiding coroner John Evans appealed McLellan's decision and the case was heard on June 13 by justices Margaret Larlee, Joseph Robertson and Marc Richard.
The inquest had been scheduled to begin on March 17, but was postponed due to the appeal. It is expected to last two weeks.
Presiding coroner John Evans and a jury will publicly hear evidence from subpoenaed witnesses to determine the facts surrounding Perry's death and how the hospital and its staff handled matters the night Perry died.
The jury will also have an opportunity to make recommendations to prevent deaths under similar circumstances.
Saint John Police Chief Bill Reid has questioned why hospital staff did not call 911 until 12:20 a.m., up to an hour after Perry's body was found.
Hospital officials said at the time the delay was normal for a death in a hospital setting as medical professionals attempt to revive the person.