On 12 November 2009 Royal Assent was given to the Coroners and Justice Act signalling significant changes in the way contentious deaths are investigated in England and Wales. INQUEST has long argued for reform of the inquest system. It has worked closely with MPs and peers to improve the Bill to address the problems of the inquest system which is hampered by delay, inconsistency of approach, lack of resources and the inability to properly fulfil its vital function of preventing unnecessary deaths. INQUEST will continue to work to ensure that the concerns of the families with whom the organisation works are addressed during the consultation on the secondary legislation and during implementation.
An inquest is the only automatic public investigation of a contentious death that takes place in a court of law. Therefore the need for it to be effective in deaths which involve issues of state or corporate accountability is crucial.
In the Queen’s Speech on 3 December 2008 the government signalled its intention to introduce a Coroners and Justice Bill, which was then published early in 2009. The government stated that:
“[the] Coroners and Justice Bill will ensure that victims are at the heart of the criminal justice system. It will significantly improve the service bereaved families receive from a reformed coronerThe legal official who orders a post-mortem and who is in charge of the inquest procedure. system, and introduce a more consistent and transparent sentencing framework.
The purpose of the Bill is to… reform the justice and coroners systems to deliver a more effective, transparent and responsive service to the public. “
INQUEST engaged with the process as the Bill made its passage through parliament and had some success in ensuring that the needs of bereaved people were at the forefront of parliamentarians’ minds so that measures were introduced that would:
• tackle delays in the inquest system;
• address the problems with public fundingPublic means-tested financial assistance for representation during legal proceedings. It is not available for representation at most inquests. The Lord ChancellorThe cabinet minister in the government responsible for the effective running of the legal system in England and Wales. can grant it in exceptional cases. for families’ legal representation;
• record and monitor inquest findings;
• make recommendations to relevant statutory bodies following inquest findings;
• and ensure action is taken following these recommendations.
Measures proposed in clauses 11-12 of the Coroners and Justice Bill which would have allowed some inquests to be held partly in secret (as previously dropped from the Counter Terrorism Bill 2008) were eventually removed from the Bill after concerted campaigning by INQUEST and others. However, the Justice Secretary instead proposed such inquests would come under the Inquiries Act 2005, a solution which was in many ways even less satisfactory.
Despite last-minute campaigning for them to be amended or removed, the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 received Royal Assent on 12 November 2009 with the controversial secret inquiries measures intact.
Central to the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 is the role of the Chief CoronerThe legal official who orders a post-mortem and who is in charge of the inquest procedure., who would drive forward the reform process and introduce national standards and leadership.
In October 2010, the coalition government announced that it would not implement key provisions of the Act. Instead, they proposed a small number of amendments should remain and that the office of the Chief CoronerThe legal official who orders a post-mortem and who is in charge of the inquest procedure. be abolished before it was even established through the so-called “bonfire of the quangos”. As the government proposals in the Public Bodies Bill are debated by Parliament, INQUEST has been engaged in intensive lobbying to raise our concerns. We have briefed parliamentarians, including speaking at a busy parliamentary meeting hosted by Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, circulated detailed briefing papers (see below) to Peers in advance of the debates and co-ordinated a letter to the editor of The Times on behalf of leading bereavement organisations.
In December 2010, INQUEST’s lobbying alongside organisations such as the Royal British Legion and AvMA resulted in a resounding defeat for the government when the House of Lords passed an amendment removing the Chief CoronerThe legal official who orders a post-mortem and who is in charge of the inquest procedure.’s office from the list of bodies to be abolished through the Public Bodies Bill. The Bill is being considered by the House of Commons and INQUEST will continue to campaign to keep the Chief CoronerThe legal official who orders a post-mortem and who is in charge of the inquest procedure.. The Bill itself has already been heavily criticised by MPs including the respected Public Administration Select Committee.
INQUEST also made a detailed response to the government’s green paper on reform of the legal aid system in February 2011 outlining our concerns about funding for legal representation of bereaved families at inquests.
Add your voice to our concern that the Chief CoronerThe legal official who orders a post-mortem and who is in charge of the inquest procedure.’s office should not be abolished and the fundamental reforms in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 must not be shelved:
Public Bodies Bill and the Chief CoronerThe legal official who orders a post-mortem and who is in charge of the inquest procedure.:
- GOVERNMENT FINALLY SEES SENSE ON INQUEST REFORM 23 November 2011
- CHARITIES CALL ON MPs TO VOTE FOR THE CHIEF CORONER 25 October 2011
- MPs URGED TO VOTE TO SAVE THE CHIEF CORONER 24 October 2011
- Updated Briefing on coronial reform 16 November 2011
The Coroners & Justice Act
- INQUEST WELCOMES APPOINTMENT OF PETER THORNTON AS CHIEF CORONER 22 May 2012
- INQUEST WELCOMES IPCC CALL FOR CHANGE TO LAW ON SENSITIVE EVIDENCE 29 March 2012
- MPs AND PEERS CHALLENGE GOVERNMENT PLANS TO ABOLISH CHIEF CORONER 11 July 2011
- GOVERNMENT IGNORES PARLIAMENT AND BEREAVED FAMILIES ON CORONER REFORM 15 June 2011
- PARLIAMENTARY MEETING TO HIGHLIGHT URGENT NEED FOR CORONIAL REFORM 29 March 2011
- REPRIEVE FOR CHIEF CORONER POST 15 December 2010
- BEREAVED FAMILIES’ CONCERNS IGNORED BY COALITION GOVERNMENT 13 December 2010
- GOVERNMENT PLANS TO ABOLISH CHIEF CORONER’S OFFICE CONDEMNED BY VOLUNTARY SECTOR ORGANISATIONS 22 November 2010
- BEREAVED PEOPLE FAILED BY GOVERNMENT PLANS TO JETTISON CHIEF CORONER IN BONFIRE OF THE QUANGOS 9 November 2010
- BEREAVED FAMILIES BETRAYED BY COALITION GOVERNMENT 14 October 2010
- DELAYS IN THE INQUEST SYSTEM MUST BE ADDRESSED 12 August 2010
- CORONERS REFORM MUST GO AHEAD 1 July 2010
- Family say fresh inquest into death of tenants leader ‘has given our dad the respect he deserves’ (Camden New Journal) 28 February 2013
- Coalition faces pressure over chief coroner post (Politics.co.uk) 12 July 2011
- Inquests: call for new system as families wait years for a verdict (The Observer) 8 May 2011
- INQUEST Co-Director on BBC Radio 5 Live 19 April 2011