CORONERS’ LAW RESOURCE
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.
6-01 n 8 There is a presumption against granting a faculty for exhumation, and if it was to be obtained for the purpose of research a cogent and compelling case had to be proved in order to overcome such presumption: Re Holy Trinity, Bosham  2 All ER 820, Con Ct.
6-09 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. See the note to para 1-15, in chap 1 above.
6-30 In February 2004 the Department of Health published a report on "Modernising Pathology Services", which includes sections on autopsy and mortuary services in NHS Trusts. It sees coroners as one of the groups of "clients" of the Managed Pathology Network Core Group. The Working Group to Develop Good Practice Guidance on Modernising Pathology Services did not include any coroner or forensic pathologist.
6-44 The police are understandably unhappy if a person suspected of criminal responsibility for a death (particularly murder) is permitted to be present or represented at a coroner's post-mortem examination, when it is likely that police will also be represented, with a view to obtaining information useful for any subsequent proceedings against the suspect. It has even been suggested that there is a presumption against the coroner allowing a suspect to be so represented.
There is no such presumption. Each case must be considered on its merits. A suspect has no right as such (though he may have a right in another capacity) to be present or represented, and it is a matter for the coroner's discretion, to be exercised judicially. No doubt the circumstances in which it will be proper to permit a suspect himself to attend the autopsy, or to allow him to be represented by anyone other than a medical practitioner, will be very rare indeed.
The fact that some persons are by statutory instrument given a right to be represented, but not suspects, is not of any great significance, given the terms of r 7(4). The fact that autopsies are a valuable part of the exercise of gathering information for prosecution does not mean that suspects cannot be allowed to be present or represented. They are so present or represented at other aspects of such information gathering.
Where (as has been suggested) unrepresented suspects wish to be present for reasons which are not bona fide, coroners will no doubt take this into account, and only permit the suspect to be represented by a medical practitioner, or not at all. Nor does the provisional nature of the results of many autopsies affect the position. It simply goes to the weight which can be attached to the information obtained. Similarly with the fact that it is possible - indeed, common - to hold a second autopsy at the instance of the suspect. A second autospsy is never as satisfactory, from the point of view of obtaining information about the death, as the first. If in a given case it is right to allow a second autopsy, it is likely also to be appropriate instead to permit the suspect to be represented at the first, no doubt normally by a medical practitioner.
6-47 A report on magnetic resonace imaging by Dr Alistair Parker was submitted
to the Department of Health in February 2004. In broad terms it recommends a
comparative trial of three years of MRI versus conventional autopsy in (a) fetal,
newborn and children (b) adults. It is available on line here.
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Last modified: Monday, 09-Aug-2004 08:53:17 BST by: Malcolm Bishop