13 December 2010

INQUEST and twelve other leading charities supporting bereaved people today called on the coalition government to reconsider their plans to abolish the post of Chief Coroner for England and Wales. The day before the House of Lords considers the proposal as part of the Public Bodies Bill 2010, the 13 charities strongly criticised the government’s plans in a letter to The Times (subscription only).

The signatories are: INQUESTThe Royal British LegionCRUSE Bereavement CareVictim SupportAction against Medical Accidents (AvMA), Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY), Child Bereavement CharityDisaster ActionSupport after Murder and Manslaughter (SAMM National), Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS), The Compassionate FriendsRoadPeace and BRAKE.

Deborah Coles, Co-Director of INQUEST, said:

The coalition government has failed to respond to the concerns of bereaved people and the charities who support them.

The Chief Coroner, the centerpiece of the Coroners and Justice Act which passed with cross-party support a year ago, underpins an overhaul called for by numerous inquiries, reviews and parliamentary reports.  Families and bereavement organizations were engaged in the extensive, six year process leading up to the creation of this vital post. The reforms in the Act would have put bereaved people at the heart of a new inquest system. Yet the coalition government now seems intent on ignoring the experiences of bereaved families by proposing to scrap the Chief Coroner’s post. The government has taken their decision with no consultation with bereaved people or the voluntary sector organizations who support them. The reasons given for the decision of “accountability” and “cost” have not been properly evidenced and fly in the face of logic.

Tweaking the coronial system, as the government proposes, will not deliver the fundamental reform that is urgently needed. Without the Chief Coroner providing national leadership and judicial oversight, the government’s proposals to draw up standards of service delivery and a charter for bereaved families will amount to little more than unenforceable aspirations.

Notes to editors:

  1. INQUEST provides a specialist, comprehensive advice service on contentious deaths and their investigation to bereaved people, lawyers, other advice and support agencies, the media, parliamentarians and the wider public. INQUEST is represented on the Ministerial Council on Deaths in Custody and the Ministry of Justice Coroner Service Stakeholder Forum.
    2. The letter to The Times, the full list of signatories and links to each organisation’s webpage can be found at: www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/letters/article2841682.ece
  2. Examples of the numerous reviews, parliamentary reports and inquiries have called for an overhaul of the system include:
  • the Independent Review of Coroner Services commissioned by the Home Office and chaired by Tom Luce Death Certification and Investigation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, 2003;
  • the Joint Committee on Human Rights Deaths in Custody: Third Report of Session 2004-05;
  • the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs Reform of the coroners’ system and death certification: Eighth Report of Session 2005-06;
  • Final report of the Redfern Inquiry into the analysis of human tissue taken from individuals who had worked in the nuclear industry, published 16 November 2010.
  1. Bereaved families and specialist organisations such as INQUEST contributed time and effort to the lengthy consultation processes that led up to the enactment of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 including submitting written consultations, meeting with policy-makers and Ministers, organising and speaking at parliamentary meetings/committees. 
  2. The creation of the post of Chief Coroner for England and Wales was at the heart of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.  The role was designed to ensure judicial oversight, enforce national standards and increase accountability. Introducing national leadership under the Chief Coroner’s post would be a crucial step toward tackling the unacceptable delays, inconsistent standards of service delivery and lack of accountability that plague the current system.
  3. The Public Bodies Bill was introduced in the House of Lords on 29 October 2010. Clause 1 confers a general enabling power on a Minister to, by order, abolish a body or office listed in the schedules to the Bill (which includes the Chief Coroner for England and Wales in schedule 1).  The Minister must lay the draft statutory instrument containing the order before Parliament (clause 10).  The draft of the statutory instrument containing the order must be laid before each House of Parliament and cannot be made until it has been approved through a vote in each House. If the Bill is enacted as it stands then, without additional consultation or scrutiny, the order abolishing the Chief Coroner’s post could be laid before Parliament and voted through each House after a relatively short debate and with no opportunity for amendment.
  4. INQUEST’s Briefing for the Committee Stage of the Public Bodies Bill in the House of Lords examines the process to abolish the Chief Coroner’s office and scrutinises the government’s twin criteria of “costs” and “accountability” that apparently underpin their plans.
  5. INQUEST is supporting the amendment tabled by Baroness Finlay of Llandaff to remove the Chief Coroner’s post and associated officers from the schedule of bodies to be abolished. The amendment will be debated in the House of Lords on Tuesday 14 December.