Chapter 1: General Introduction
The material formerly found here is now contained in the first supplement to Jervis, published by Sweet & Maxwell in November 2003, with ISBN 0 421 858 907.
1-09 n 40 The decision of the Court of Appeal in R (Middleton) v West Somerset Coroner was technically reversed by the House of Lords on 11 March 2004:  UKHL 10. The House gave detailed guidance for the conduct in future of inquests into deaths in custody where art 2 is engaged.
1-15 The Home Office on 11 March 2004 published a position paper on reforming the coroner system, making a kind of synthesis of the Luce and Shipman Reports.
Much of the paper is put in cautious or as yet undecided terms, and many important decisions have yet to be taken by ministers. Nonetheless, it is possible to see certain trends. As a whole, the coroner system is to be retained, but reformed, and the death certification system is to be completely overhauled.
As to the latter, there will in future be verification of the fact of all deaths, certification of the cause of death by a doctor, scrutiny of all such certificates by a medical examiner based in the coroner's office, and referral to the coroner of all deaths which cannot be certified or which are unnatural. (See also the note to paras 5-41 - 5-44 in this noter-up, on the registration system more generally.)
As to the former, the coroner would hold public inquests into most of the deaths referred to him or her. Juries would continue to be required in some cases. Narrative verdicts would be preferred to the current system of short-form "verdicts". However, instead of the 127 or so coroners today (mostly part-time) sitting in their own separate jurisdictions, each with a deputy and most with assistant deputies, there would be about 40-60 full-time coroners, all legally qualified, supported by deputies, sitting in a single national jurisdiction, and presided over by a Chief Coroner. An advisory Coronial Council would be created, to harness relevant experience and expertise, whose members would be drawn from the various professional stakeholders involved, as well as lay organisations.
The new system is thus to consider more deaths (ie all deaths in England and Wales, not just those currently reported to coroners) but with differently organised resources, ie fewer (but full-time) coroners, with however new medical examiners working slongside them.
On the question of funding, the paper makes clear that there is to be no extra money available for the new system. This means that it is necessary to be clear exactly where the existing funding comes from, and, to the (overwhelming) extent that it does not come from central government already, "capture" that funding for the new system. (The Luce Report had estimated an increase of about 10% on existing funding for its version of the new system.)
The timescale for implementation of these reforms is unclear, as they depend in large part on the enactment of primary legislation, and the paper itself states that this depends on the Parliamentary timetable. However, the paper states that a White Paper and a Bill should be prepared within one year, ie by March 2005. In the past, coroner reform has not been seen as a priority, and 2005 may be a general election year. If primary legislation is passed in session 2005-06, with secondary legislation following in its train, then the earliest realistic date for the coming into effect of a new system would be the beginning of the next local authority financial year, ie 1 April 2007.
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Last modified: Monday, 09-Aug-2004 08:53:15 BST by: Malcolm Bishop