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HOME OFFICE FUNDAMENTAL REVIEW OF CORONERS AND DEATH CERTIFICATION
In 2001 the Home Office announced a fundamental review of the coroners' and death certification systems in England and Wales and Northern Ireland, chaired by a retired civil servant, Tom Luce. This Review, which had its own website, reported to the Home Office Minister responsible for coroners in late April 2003. The first volume of the Report itself was published only on 4 June 2003, as Cm 5831. A number of background papers, covering death certification practice, coroners' caseloads, human rights and coroners' courts, evidence and privilege in coroners' courts, and public opinion about coroners' work, were published together as Volume 2 of the Report on 4 July 2003. The Report recommended a large number of changes, including
The Home Office has issued a Press Statement about the Report.
The Coroners' Society of England and Wales has also issued a Press Statement, broadly welcoming the Report, though with reservations, as have the Law Society of England and Wales, and the Royal College of Pathologists.
The terms of reference of the Review included arrangements for identification of the deceased, ascertaining causes of death, the need for further public investigation, the qualifications of those investigating death, the support and other services needed, including post-mortem examinations, and the implications for the law of treasure. Express mention was made of the possibility of introducing a so-called "medical examiner" system, although without defining this term or saying what it would entail.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers on 4 April 2003 issued a press release (in anticipation of the Report of the Fundamental Review) calling for various reforms, including "a unified national coroners' service to be run by the Lord Chancellor's Department", which would "be responsible for the certification of all deaths", "a new form of death certification to be introduced which standardises the cause of death", changes to the Coroners Act 1988 (including clarification and extension of the concept of unnatural death), alternative verdicts with "findings on the facts", more public funding, and "public safety recommendations". On 4 June 2003, they issued a press release, welcoming the proposed reforms.
On 31 March 2003, Liberty launched a Report entitled "Deaths in Custody: Redress and Remedies". This looks only at deaths in custody, but looks at all aspects of them (not only the coroners' role). So far as the coroner system is concerned, "Liberty believes the current inquest system should be retained but radically improved - still, where possible, using the expertise that has been developed so far by coroners." Further, "inquests need clearer rules of procedure", and the "inquest system should be generally adversarial", providing the coroner with an adjudicative role ...". The "usual civil rules of disclosure and legal safeguards should apply to the inquest". The "privilege against self-incrimination should be abolished", there "should be a full review of existing verdicts, with a verdict indicating negligence or a failure in a general duty of care introduced to the prescribed list", and "means-testing for public funding [for legal representation at inquests in death in custody cases] should be abolished".
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Last modified: Monday, 09-Aug-2004 08:53:12 BST by: Malcolm Bishop