7 September 2020

Tomorrow, 8 September 2020, INQUEST will give evidence alongside Andy McCulloch to the House of Commons Justice Committee in their inquiry on The Coroner Service. They will call for long overdue action from government on the coronial system, which is failing in its role to prevent future deaths and struggling to ensure bereaved families have access to justice. Their appearance will be followed by evidence from INQUEST Lawyers Group member, Charlotte Haworth Hird.

Now more than ever, as coroners struggle to respond to the high number of deaths arising from COVID-19, change is urgently needed. Drawing directly from their experience supporting bereaved families since 1981, and the recent evidence of 50 families who informed written evidence to the inquiry, the key concerns that INQUEST will raise include:

  • The need for a full time Chief Coroner and a National Coroner’s Service, rather than the current part time Chief Coroner and inconsistent localised services.
  • The establishment of a National Oversight Mechanism; a new independent body with the duty to collate, analyse and monitor the currently disparate, hard to access and locally held recommendations of coroners and other post-death investigations and inquiries.
  • The introduction of a right to appeal to the Chief Coroner, to address the current absence of accessible appeal mechanisms against coroner’s decisions.
  • Automatic non-means tested funding for families for specialist legal representation immediately following a state related death, as described in INQUEST's Legal Aid for Inquests campaign.

INQUEST will also highlight the significant backlog of inquests which existed before the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which creates long delays in identifying necessary learning and change required following a death. Since the beginning of the pandemic, this situation is even more troubling. INQUEST remain concerned that inquests are not being opened into most COVID-related deaths. In the absence of a public inquiry, inquests are a necessary forum for upholding the government’s obligation to prevent and investigate deaths (under Article 2 of the Human Rights Act).

Andy McCulloch will be joining the Director of INQUEST Deborah Coles in giving evidence to the committee. Andy is the father of Colette McCulloch, who died whilst in the care of mental health services. Their family faced multiple challenges in navigating the inquest system, and ensuring there was a full examination of the circumstances of Colette’s death. An inquest ultimately concluded in March 2019 and found Colette had been failed by services involved in her care. Charlotte Haworth Hird is a human rights solicitor at Bindmans specialising in inquests around deaths in state custody or care. She will give evidence alongside a representative of the charity for patient safety and justice AvMA.

There have been some significant improvements in inquests over the last 30 years, including as a result of the 2009 Coroners and Justice Act, implemented in 2013, and the Human Rights Act 1998. However, there are continuing problems that must be addressed for inquests to serve their purpose in full, and for them to be conducted in a way that supports, listens to and is informed by bereaved families. There is also an urgent need to consider the essential preventive role of inquests, and INQUEST will set out recommendations to achieve this. 



For further information, interview requests and to note your interest, please contact INQUEST Communications Team: 020 7263 1111 or [email protected]; [email protected]

See details of the evidence session and where to watch it from 2.30pm on Tuesday 8 September here. More information about the inquiry and terms of reference are available here.

More information about Charlotte Haworth Hird and her work is available here.