12 August 2010

INQUEST, the leading independent organisation working to reform the investigation of contentious deaths, today expressed concerns that failure to implement the Coroners and Justice Act will cause further unnecessary distress to bereaved families. Co-Director Helen Shaw told BBC Radio 4′s Face the Facts that delays in the system meant that for many people, the grieving process simply stopped. She said: “One of the biggest problems with the delay in the system is lessons aren’t being learnt and …families can wait for years for an inquest.”

The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 contains measures to:

  • relax geographical boundaries on coroners’ jurisdictions to allow inquests to be moved, which may help reduce delays;
  • introduce national leadership through the appointment of a Chief Coroner and a Medical Adviser to the Chief Coroner;
  • deliver an improved service for bereaved people, including the introduction of a Charter for Bereaved People, and a system of appeals against coroners’ decisions;
  • introduce national standards that coroners should meet, supported by training and guidance for all coroners, their officers and staff;
  • and make investigations and inquests more effective.

Originally scheduled to be implemented in April 2012, the provisions in the Act are now on hold and under review within the Ministry of Justice.

Helen Shaw, Co-Director of INQUEST, said:

The Act gives the government a blueprint for updating our coronial system so that it is fit for the 21st century.

The current system is in urgent need of reform. Each year tens of thousands of bereaved families grappling with the inquest process are forced to endure lengthy delays and an archaic, unaccountable system. These failures also leave the coronial service unable to fulfil its vital function of preventing unnecessary deaths.

Face the Facts is on BBC Radio 4 at 1230 today, 12 August, repeated at 2100 on Sunday, 15 August, or online on the BBC iPlayer

Notes to editors:

  • On 21 May 2010 stakeholders who have worked with the Ministry of Justice on coronial reform were told that the Justice Secretary had asked civil servants to review the “scope and timing of the plans to implement the coroner measures contained in Part One of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.”
  • The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 received Royal Assent in November 2009. INQUEST worked hard to improve the legislation during the ten months of its parliamentary passage and the new Act has created a framework that could address many of the problems of the current system.
  • Since 2003 numerous reviews, parliamentary reports and inquiries have called for an overhaul of the system including: 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.
  • Statistics published by the Ministry of Justice in May 2010 record that 31,000 inquests were opened into deaths in 2009 (www.justice.gov.uk/publications/docs/coroners-deaths-reported-2010.pdf)