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Today (2 September 2020) marks the deadline for written evidence into an inquiry on the effectiveness of the Coroner Service.

The Justice Select Committee is holding the inquiry to assess whether there has been enough progress since changes were made in 2009 to improve bereaved people’s experience of the service.

What is the Justice Select Committee?

The Justice Select Committee is a cross-party parliamentary committee of MPs which scrutinises the policy, administration, and spending of the Ministry of Justice.

What is the background to the inquiry?

The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 introduced several reforms in 2013, but despite the Ministry of Justice reviewing the Act’s effectiveness in 2015, it has not published the results.

The committee will hear evidence from anyone with answers to the questions in the call for evidence, including bereaved families who have experienced the Coroner Service at first hand.

What written evidence is the Committee looking for?

The committee is looking for written evidence on:

1. The extent of the unevenness of Coroners services, including local failures, and the case for a National Coroners Service.
2. The Coroners Service’s capacity to deal properly with multiple deaths in public disasters.
3. Ways to strengthen the Coroners’ role in the prevention of avoidable future deaths.
4. How the Coroners Service has dealt with COVID 19
5. Progress with training and guidance for Coroners
6. Improvements in services for the bereaved
7. Fairness in the Coroners system

Sir Bob Neill MP, chair of the Justice Committee, argues that many coroner areas have been neglected for years. He said:

“The 2009 Coroners and Justice Act was supposed to put the needs of bereaved people at the heart of the Coroner Service; for coroner services to be locally delivered within a framework of national standards; and to enable a more efficient system of investigations and inquests.

“The Ministry of Justice has not published its review of the Coroner Service and we are concerned that not enough progress has been made.”

Expert legal view

Mary Smith, Associate Legal Director from our Bristol office who has extensive experience representing families at inquests, says:

“This inquiry is an important step towards improving the Coroner Service for bereaved families. There are 88 coroner areas in England and Wales, but not all of them have a dedicated court to carry out inquests.

“With coroners organised and funded locally, and with differing staffing levels, there is little consistency between coroner’s areas and bereaved families’ experience of the service. The practical effect is that the scope of an inquest and support offered to families may differ depending upon the area in which it is held. Limiting family participation or the extent of inquiry means that the family do not get the answers they need and the ability to learn and prevent future deaths is lost.

“The limited legal funding for families at inquests needs to be addressed. Equally, there is no current agreement or framework among public bodies to ensure inquest conclusions drive the necessary changes to prevent future deaths. It is hoped that this inquiry will help to consolidate and strengthen the coroner’s role so that key learnings and recommendations from inquests can be implemented to prevent avoidable deaths in the future.

“With many inquests delayed until 2021, we are already seeing that COVID-19 is placing significant additional pressures on an already overstretched Coroner’s Service. The timing of this call for evidence is welcome. The hope is that analysis of the evidence is rapid and positive changes follow.”

Novum Law specialises in representing families at inquests. For those pursuing a civil claim for serious personal injury, medical negligence or asbestos disease, representation by expert lawyers or barristers at the inquest can also be arranged, often on a ‘No Win No Fee‘ basis.

To learn more about the inquiry into the Coroner Service visit https://committees.parliament.uk/work/430/the-coroner-service/

To learn more about inquests and the role of the coroner, click here. You can also contact our specialist inquests team today to arrange a free, no-obligation chat. Simply call us on 0800 884 0777 or fill out our enquiry form to request a callback.