Inquest Team E-Bulletin

Justice Committee publishes its report on the Coroner Service

On 27 May 2021 the Justice Committee published its First Report on the Coroner Service, reaching the damning conclusion that ‘successive governments have failed bereaved people by failing to establish a National Coroner Service’. The government’s response is due by 27 July 2021.

The Report went further, recommending that by 1 October 2021, the Ministry of Justice should ensure that for all inquests where public authorities are legally represented at public expense, there should be non-means tested legal aid or other public funding available for bereaved families.      
    
What is the relevance of this report for practitioners? First, it’s worth noting the date of 27 July 2021 to see what the government’s response will be. Among the Justice Committee’s wide-ranging recommendations were the following:

  • The Coroners Rules should be amended to make it clear that the statutory duty of candour extends to inquest proceedings;
  • The Ministry of Justice should introduce an appeals system, similar to that originally envisaged by section 40 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009;  
  • The Ministry of Justice should unite coroner services into a single system for England and Wales;  
  • The Ministry of Justice should create a Coroner Service Inspectorate, to report publicly on how well each coroner area accords with the Chief Coroner’s Model Area;  
  • A system for following up on actions from PFD reports should be established by the Ministry of Justice.

Clearly, if implemented, the recommendations would result in significant changes to the coronial system as we know it. The key question that arose from the evidence given to the Committee was whether the coronial system was something the government were willing to fund – as the outgoing Chief Coroner HHJ Lucraft QC said, a national coroner service would only succeed if it was properly resourced.

In giving oral evidence to the committee, Parliamentary Under-Secretary Alex Chalk sounded a note of caution, making the point that the MoJ would need to consider the proportionality of any changes, and whether they were an effective use of limited public resources.

For the time being then, no changes to normal service. However with the Justice Committee throwing its support behind the growing number of voices calling for a centralised coroner service and better funding for bereaved families, the government’s response at the end of July will be awaited with great interest.

Alexander West

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