Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Coroners: A voice for grieving relatives

One of the oldest offices known to the law is that of Coroner.  Writing in The Times 1st May, Frances Gibb drew attention to how Coroners have become the voice of grieving relatives seeking to expose systemic failings which may have contributed to their loved one's deaths.  There can be little doubt that many governmental failings relating to provision for the Armed Forces would not have come to light but for the inquest system - see Andrew Walker, Coroner.

Under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, the entire system relating to Coroners is going to receive a complete overhaul and many of the structural reforms will (generally) be welcomed.  Whilst the Bill was in Parliament, there were some attempts by the government to enable the Secretary of State for Justice to direct that an inquest be held in secret.  These did not succeed BUT there is section 11.  This blandly states that "Schedule 1 is to have effect".  When you delve into Schedule 1 there is a power to suspend an inquest pending an Inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005.  Further, such an inquest would not normally be resumed since the Inquiry would substitute for the inquest.  Turning to section 19 of the 2005 Act there are extensive powers for Ministers to restrict public access to an inquiry - e.g. on grounds of national security.

It would appear that, in the years to come, the Coroner's voice may be heard rather less than previously.

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