23rd November 2011

INQUEST welcomes the government’s last minute decision to support the creation of the office of the Chief Coroner. The successful year-long campaign led by INQUEST and the Royal British Legion and supported by leading bereavement charities and medical professionals means the government has finally seen sense.

However in a crucial debate this afternoon Peers will be voting on a government amendment that saves the office of the Chief Coroner but repeals the clauses in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 that provide for an appeals process. Far from creating a litigious culture and an endless right of appeal after inquests, the carefully-crafted framework in the Act has the potential to reduce the need for so many bereaved people to engage in expensive litigation. Before any irrevocable decision is taken, the office of the Chief Coroner should be set up and then a thorough evaluation of the costs, savings and impact of any appeals process can be made and a properly informed decision can be taken about how to move forward. We hope that the government will continue to listen and respond positively.

Helen Shaw, Co-Director of INQUEST said:

Parliament recognised that the inquest system is in urgent need of reform when it passed the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 with cross-party support. The Act created the framework for updating our coronial system so that it is fit for the 21st century. We are delighted that the government has finally seen sense and will establish the Office of the Chief Coroner to lead and guide the process of fundamental reform that is so long overdue.

The Chief Coroner will be best placed to make a judgement about if and how an appeals process could be established based on the provisions agreed in the 2009 legislation.  Each year tens of thousands of bereaved families are forced to endure lengthy delays and an archaic, unaccountable and inefficient system and this decision means the overdue reforms can be implement so that the coronial service can  fulfil its vital function of preventing unnecessary deaths.

Sheila Taylor, mother of Michael Taylor who died in HMP Bedford in 2007, said:

Did we feel lessons were learned from the inquest? Yes, definitely. The trouble was that by then we knew lessons had been learned before, and there was no-one in overall control to ensure changes were implemented. I am really delighted that the new legislation is going to be implemented…“putting the bereaved at the heart of the system”. I know all the arguments about funding, but we all know that ultimately you spend more money going over the same ground again and again, and picking up the pieces of yet more damaged lives.

Supplementary Briefing for Public Bodies Bill Lord Consideration of Commons Amendments