Peter Thornton appointed chief coroner of England and Wales
- 22 May 2012
- From the section UK Politics
Judge Peter Thornton QC, who led the inquest of paper seller Ian Tomlinson, will become the first chief coroner of England and Wales in September.
He said he aimed to "provide quality and uniformity in the coroner system".
The coalition government had decided to scrap the role - created by Labour in 2009 - but reinstated it in November.
That followed opposition from the Royal British Legion which said the post was needed to improve the handling of inquiries into military deaths.
'Thoroughness and fairness'
Mr Thornton, who has worked as a senior circuit judge at the Old Bailey since 2007, will be tasked with setting new guidelines for coroners.
He said the coroner system was "of vital importance" but that "with any ancient and well-respected system there is room for improvement and development".
He said he would work towards "national consistency of approach and standards between coroner areas".
"Openness, inclusiveness, thoroughness and fairness must be at the heart of this process if it is to be effective and serve the needs of the public," he added.
In May 2011, the jury at the inquest - conducted by Mr Thornton - into the death of Mr Tomlinson said he was unlawfully killed by a Metropolitan Police officer at the G20 protests in London in April 2009.
'Reflected on concerns'
Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Ken Clarke said Mr Thornton would help to ensure coroners provided "a high standard of service at what can be a difficult time for bereaved families".
Some relatives of military personnel killed on duty have complained about long delays - sometimes lasting several years - before inquests take place.
The Legion argued that, without a chief coroner, there would be less impetus to speed the process up.
Announcing the U-turn in November, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke said he had "listened and reflected on the concerns" raised and was "prepared to have one last try to meet those arguments" by appointing a chief coroner.
The government plans to ensure coroners are better trained and equipped to deal with military cases.
But Mr Clarke said existing procedures for challenging an inquest decision would continue, thus avoiding "the need for expensive new appeal rights".
Prime Minister David Cameron said he did not want a system which would extend the appeal process and could lead to large numbers of cases being referred to the chief coroner for a second verdict.
At the moment, there is no automatic right of appeal against the findings of an inquest in England and Wales but the proceedings can be challenged in a judicial review.
The Royal British Legion welcomed the new post but said it would continue to campaign for the chief coroner to be given the power to consider appeals.
The office of the chief coroner of England and Wales was established in 2009 under Labour to head a new national coroner service, reporting to the Lord Chancellor.
The power to hear appeals was originally set out in legislation.
The position was created because of concerns the service provided by coroners was inconsistent - but no-one was appointed to the role.
The government initially decided to scrap it to save money but later rowed back while warning that most of its powers would be transferred elsewhere, including to the Lord Chief Justice.
As well as introducing new national standards, the chief coroner will also be asked to try to improve the way bereaved families are dealt with.
Northern Ireland has a similar inquest and appeals system to England and Wales.
Scotland, meanwhile, has a different system in which fatal accident inquiries (FAIs) must be held, in front of a sheriff, into deaths in certain circumstances - including in police custody or in prison.
But where the circumstances of the death have been established in criminal proceedings, they are generally not held.
FAIs can also be held where they are deemed to be in the public interest.
At the moment, all inquests into the deaths of all British military personnel killed abroad - including those from Scotland and Northern Ireland - are held at coroner's courts in England.
That is because the bodies of all British service men or women are repatriated to England - formerly to RAF Lyneham, in Wiltshire, and, since September 2011, to RAF Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire.