Chief coroner: Royal British Legion welcomes U-turn

Medals and poppies Families of service personnel have complained at long delays before their inquests

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The Royal British Legion has welcomed the decision to retain the post of chief coroner, but says it is disappointed that he or she will not have the power to hear appeals.

The government had chosen to scrap the position, which was created in 2009 but has never been filled.

The Legion argued that a chief coroner was needed to improve the handling of inquiries into military deaths.

It said it would continue to campaign for the post to have appeal rights.

The government originally decided to scrap the office of the chief coroner to save money but later rowed back, saying it would be retained but most of its powers transferred elsewhere, including to the Lord Chief Justice.

However, one of the powers that would have lapsed was the chief coroner's proposed monitoring of investigations into service deaths.

'Expensive'

Some relatives of military personnel killed on active duty have complained about long delays - sometimes several years - before their inquests take place.

The Legion argued that without a chief coroner, there would be far less impetus to improve the situation.

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said he had listened to concerns raised and was "prepared to have one last try to meet those arguments" by implementing the office of the chief coroner.

Start Quote

This is a victory for the Royal British Legion on behalf of all bereaved armed forces families”

End Quote Chris Simpkins Royal British Legion

But he said the existing mechanisms for challenging an inquest decision would remain and would "avoid the need for expensive new appeal rights".

The prime minister's official spokesman said the government's plans would improve the system so that coroners were better trained and equipped to deal with military cases.

But he said David Cameron did not want a system which would extend the process and could lead to large numbers of cases being referred to the chief coroner for a second verdict.

Chris Simpkins, director general of the Legion, said: "This is a victory for the Royal British Legion on behalf of all bereaved armed forces families, and for the many bereaved organisation groups that have campaigned on this issue.

"All the same, we are disappointed that the government will not implement appeal provisions to the chief coroner."

Mr Simpkins said the Legion would continue to campaign for appeal rights.

He added: "The government says that bereaved families need closure. We say that they need closure in the certain knowledge that their loss has been investigated to their satisfaction."

The row over the office of chief coroner had threatened to derail the government's Public Bodies Bill, which comes to the House of Lords on Wednesday.

Labour said the government had been "forced into a climbdown".

The office of the chief coroner for England and Wales was established under Labour in November 2009, and the power to hear appeals was originally set out in legislation.

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