The Coroners and Justice Bill 2009 contains a long-awaited shake-up of the coroners’ service to speed up inquests. Many of the provisions of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 were finally implemented on Thursday 25 July.  These will form the revised Coroners’ Rules and Regulations and are a significant step towards putting the needs of the bereaved families first.

The principal changes are:

  1. Medical examiners will provide independent scrutiny of the circumstances of death.
  2. The Chief Coroner (Peter Thornton QC already appointed in September 2012) will oversee the appointment of Coroners in 97 areas . All Coroners are to be lawyers (doctors will need a legal qualification). All Coroners must retire at 70 (except those currently in place). He will oversee new procedural rules on disclosure and pre-Inquest reviews. The post of Chief Coroner will mean there is judicial oversight and leadership of the coroner’s service for the first time.
  3. All Inquests must be held within 6 MONTHS of death or as soon as reasonably practicable after that date. Those not completed within 1 year will be notified to the Chief Coroner who will maintain a register and report to the Lord Chancellor. There will be little tolerance of any delay in submitting statements or deferment pending internal investigations.
  4. Juries will not be required for prison and custody cases except where death was violent and unnatural or of unknown cause. Juries will be mandatory where death was caused by the act/omission of a police officer or forces member in the execution of duty or where death was caused by accident, poisoning or disease reportable to a government department or inspector.
  5. The Rule 43 “power’ will become a statutory “duty’ with a view to preventing future deaths and the subject of an annual report by the Chief Coroner to the Lord Chancellor. The time limit for the Trust response remains 56 days.

It is hoped that these changes will help reduce delays, raise standards and improve the impact of inquest findings. This will ensure the process is both responsive to the needs of bereaved people and also protects the wider public interest by preventing further deaths.

Farleys has a team of solicitors specialising in inquests who can offer advice in preparation for an inquest and representation during inquest hearings. For more information or to obtain legal advice in relation to an inquest, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

By Kelly Darlington, UK Inquest Lawyer