Last month, the Ministry of Justice released the Coroners Statistics Annual Bulletin 2021 covering England and Wales, which covers deaths between January and December 2021.

The key figures from the Bulletin are as follows:

  • Deaths in state detention are up 3% from 2020, including a 17% rise in deaths in prison custody.

  • The estimated average time taken to process an inquest increased from 27 weeks in 2020 to 31 weeks in 2021.

  • There has been a decrease in the number of deaths reported to coroners in 2021. 195,200 deaths were reported to coroners in 2021, the lowest level since 1995 and down 5% compared to 2020.

  • 33% of all registered deaths were reported to coroners in 2021, which again is the lowest level since 1995.

  • Inquest conclusions are up 4% from 2020, with 32,300 inquest conclusions being recorded. Accident / misadventure conclusions were up 2%, suicide conclusions were up 8% and unclassified conclusions were up 24% on 2020.

  • 440 Prevention of Future Deaths reports were issued in 2021.

The Impact of the COVID Pandemic

The Bulletin continues to show the impact of the COVID pandemic. 2021 recorded the second highest number of registered deaths in England and Wales since 1995 (the highest being in 2020), however, deaths reported to Coroners decreased to their lowest level.

At the height of the pandemic in 2020 many inquests were postponed. Jury inquests resumed in 2021 as social distancing and other restrictions came to an end, however the level of jury inquests in 2021 was 14% lower than the 5-year pre-pandemic average.

4,820 suicide conclusions were returned in 2021, which is the highest recorded since reporting began. The increase could be as a result of the pandemic, though some of the deaths may have occurred prior to 2021 and their inquests may have been delayed due to COVID. The number of men dying by suicide was nearly 3 times the number of women in 2021. The 8% increase in suicide conclusions from 2020 to 2021 may also be a consequence of the change in the standard of proof established by the Supreme Court in the case of Maughan.

The time taken to process an inquest increased by 4 weeks from 2020 to 2021, which is very likely again to be due a backlog of cases caused by the COVID pandemic. In 2021, on average around a third of coroner areas completed an inquest within 24 weeks of the date on which they were made aware of the death, in line with Rule 8 of the Coroners (Inquests) Rules 2013. The average time taken for cases to be heard varies dramatically across the country, with Liverpool and Black Country cases having an average wait of 11 weeks, compared with a 66-week average wait in Gwent and 75-week wait in Inner South London.

Deaths in State Detention

Deaths in state detention reported to coroners increased by 3% to 580, up from 562 in 2020. This was driven by a rise in the number of deaths in prison custody.

The number of deaths in prison custody reported to coroners increased by 17% (55 cases) compared to 2020, to 373 deaths in 2021. This is the highest level since reporting began in 2011. This increase was driven by deaths related to COVID, thought to be due to the close contact prison environment.

There were 170 deaths of individuals subject to Mental Health Act Detention in 2021, which is a 22% decrease compared to 2020.

Deaths in police custody more than doubled on last year, increasing by 10 to 18 deaths in 2021.

Here at Farleys, our specialist inquest solicitors have represented clients in a number of inquest cases, be they deaths in prison or police custody, deaths in medical care or otherwise private inquest cases.

It is important that your concerns surrounding the death of your family member are appropriately addressed. Here at Farleys we understand the distress and anguish that a death of a family member can cause. We can provide advice, assistance, and representation to ensure that you are fully supported throughout such a difficult time.

If you require representation at an inquest, please contact our team on 0845 287 0939 or complete our online contact form.