24 October 2011

Tomorrow MPs will have the chance to vote to save the Chief Coroner from inclusion in the government’s ‘bonfire of the quangos.’ The Public Bodies Bill Report and Third Reading debate in the House of Commons takes place on Tuesday 25 October and an amendment has been tabled by Andrew Percy MP to remove all reference to the Chief Coroner from the Bill. The vote will have profound implications for the fundamental reform of the inquest system.

Following an initial failed attempt in the House of Lords to remove the post of the Chief Coroner from the statute completely via its inclusion in the list of public bodies to be abolished, the government amendment passed at Committee stage in the House of Commons last week includes the judicial post of the Chief Coroner in schedule 5 (Power to Modify or Transfer Functions) of the Bill.  In a written ministerial statement to the House of Commons on 14 June the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke MP, outlined details of a proposal to transfer a limited number of the Chief Coroner’s statutory powers to the Lord Chief Justice and others to himself as Lord Chancellor.  This has been presented as fundamental reform but essentially it leaves the same system in place.

INQUEST is working with a broad coalition of organisations representing bereaved families, professionals engaged with the inquest system and parliamentarians to argue that there is an alternative to government proposals. Together with the Royal British Legion we have produced an alternative timetable for full implementation of the reforms and arguing for any mention of the Chief Coroner to be removed from the Public Bodies Bill.

Last week at a parliamentary meeting bereaved families, whose relatives had died in prison, on active service in Afghanistan and following road traffic accidents, gave powerful testimony about their experiences of the current flawed system and urged parliamentarians not to waste this once in a lifetime opportunity for fundamental reform.

Speaking at the meeting 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. We were really delighted that there was going to be new legislation…”putting the bereaved at the heart of the system.” I feel devastated that this might not happen. 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.

Helen Shaw, Co-Director of INQUEST, said:

Parliament recognised that the inquest system is in urgent need of reform when it passed the