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INQUEST addresses Chief Coroner’s conference for bereavement organisations
12 June 2014
INQUEST co-director Deborah Coles addressed a conference on Tuesday organised by the Chief Coroner for a range of organisations working with bereaved people.
The conference offered the opportunity for organisations to feed back their experiences of the coronial process in light of the reforms introduced by the long-awaited implementation of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 last summer, and the changes brought in by the Chief Coroner since he took up his post in September 2012.
INQUEST was asked to discuss the system from an outsider's perspective. We took the opportunity to highlight the key role bereavement organisations played in retaining the Chief Coroner post and pushing through reforms to the system. Deborah Coles outlined the wide range of enquiries dealt with by our casework team and how that evidenced the need for more statutory support services to be made available, to complement the work bereavement organisations were already doing. She discussed some of the positive changes that had been made as a result of the reforms and referred to a number of examples of good practice. However the lack of consistent practice across the coroner service and lack of resources remain a serious problem, and while the coroner system is still dogged by excessive delays, she raised concerns about the pressure to reduce delays having a negative impact on some of the more complex cases.
The conference was addressed by Justice Minister Simon Hughes MP who spoke about his own commitment to ensuring learning from unexpected deaths. Senior Coroner Tom Osborne also spoke, giving a useful insight into his own approach to presiding over the inquest process.
It was widely agreed that it was a bit early to properly review the impact of the changes, and organisations also reported continuing frustration at the lack of consistency, making it difficult to fully assess the impact the reforms were having. Some positive examples of good practice were raised. However there was considerable concern over the support offered to families by the coroner and coroner's officers, with many organisations reporting families feeling cut adrift with poor access to information and updates. The issue of representation was a key one, with organisations reporting that families struggled with the challenge of representing themselves and ensuring their questions were answered. It was positive that the Chief Coroner recognised the inequality of arms at complex inquests as a significant issue, and INQUEST will continue to raise this with him as part of our work challenging the increasing restrictions on legal aid.