Earlier this month, the Government published its response to the consultation, "Implementing the coroner reforms in Part 1 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009". A number of the Act's provisions have already been implemented since receiving royal assent in November 2009, however the Government now intends to bring further provisions into force on 25 July 2013.
Implementation of these outstanding changes will repeal sections 1 to 7 and the majority of the other provisions in the Coroners Act 1988, which currently governs the Coroner's system in England and Wales.
A number of reviews and inquiries led to Part 1 of the 2009 Act, which provides for important reforms and a new national framework for the Coroner system. The original aims of the 2009 Act were to put the needs of bereaved people at the heart of the system; for coroner services to be locally delivered but within a new framework of national standards; and to enable a more efficient system of investigations and inquests. It is hoped that the framework will improve the experience that bereaved people have of coroner investigations, while making investigations more efficient for coroners and the local authorities that fund them.
One of the changes to be implemented by the Act concerns the governing of the coroner investigation process and the timescale for completion of inquests. The consultation process raised the question of what an appropriate target would be, to conclude an inquest. Taking into consideration factors such as reliance on third parties and the management of expectations, it was concluded that the rules will say a coroner must complete an inquest within six months of the date on which the coroner is made aware of the death, or as soon as is reasonably practicable after that date. What is considered to be a "reasonably practicable" timescale will of course depend on whether other organisations are involved, such as the HSE and the police.
Other changes to be made by the Act include regulations governing practice and procedure at inquests; allowances, fees and expenses in connection with investigations and inquests; new statutory guidance concerning the operation of the coroner system and the provision of new coroner areas.
The consultation process ran from 1 March 2013 to 12 April 2013, with nearly 300 responses received. The final versions of the rules and regulations that underpin the reforms to the coroner system were laid before Parliament on 4 July 2013 for approval prior to implementation.