UK Politics

New coroner rules aim to reduce inquest delays

Judge Peter Thornton QC
Image caption Judge Thornton will play a key role in implementing the new code of standards

Coroners in England and Wales will have to meet a new code of standards to make inquests more efficient.

A new legal framework will take effect from 25 July and require all 96 coroners to work to the same standards.

They will also have to complete inquests within six months of being informed of a death, unless there are good reasons not to.

Bereaved people in some areas have had to wait years for inquests to be completed.

Coroners courts investigate the medical cause of death, if it is not known, or if it appears to be unnatural or as a result of violence.

Less invasive

Each year more than 30,000 inquests are held in England and Wales and individual coroners have been responsible for holding hearings "as soon as practicable".

But under the new rules, coroners will have to complete inquests within six months "or as soon as is reasonably practicable after that date" - inquests can be delayed by factors, such as waiting for criminal proceedings to be completed.

Any inquests that last more than a year must be reported to the newly-appointed chief coroner, Judge Peter Thornton QC, with reasons for the delays.

Coroners will have to release the body to the bereaved family as soon as they can - or inform them if it is going to take longer than 28 days. The government's consultation on changes noted that some faith groups - notably Muslims and Jewish people - had voiced concerns about releasing bodies for funerals.

The new laws will also allow coroners to permit less invasive post-mortem examinations - again, something urged by faith groups.

Coroners will have to notify the bereaved within a week of setting the date for the inquest and provide greater access to documents and evidence, such as post-mortem reports, before the inquest takes place.

They will also be subject to new mandatory training requirements.

Justice minister Helen Grant said: "We are making absolutely sure that the needs of bereaved people are put first and foremost - and that this is done consistently around the country.

"I want to see all coroners delivering the same efficient service across the board, and we have put these changes in law so people can be assured inquests are being conducted quickly, with adequate care and the right support available for those who lose loved ones."

The impact of the reforms will be reviewed 18 months after coming into effect.

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