On 25 July 2013, the Coroner’s Rules 1984 were replaced by:
- The Coroner’s (Inquest) Rules 2013
- The Coroner’s (Investigations) Rules 2013
- The Coroner’s Allowances, Fees and Expenses Regulations 2013
The changes were facilitated by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.
The new regime will apply to any inquest not completed by 25 July 2013. The main changes:
- The use of the word inquest is preserved although it is clear that the Regulations envisage that the inquest will be a part of a larger investigation into a death.
- Verdicts are to be replaced by conclusions, determinations and findings.
2. Timing of an inquest
- Coroners are expected to complete an inquest within six months of the date on which the Coroner is made aware of the death. Where an investigation has not been completed within a year, the Coroner must notify the Chief Coroner and provide an explanation as to why the investigation has not been completed.
3. Notification of the Deceased’s Next of Kin or Personal Representative
- The Coroner is under a duty to attempt to identify the Deceased’s Next of Kin or Personal Representative and inform that person of the Coroner’s decision to begin an investigation. The Coroner must notify the Next of Kin or Personal Representative of arrangements for the inquest within one week of setting the date of the inquest hearing.
4. Pre-Inquest Review Hearings
- These are formally recognised by Rule 6 and are encouraged to deal with matters such as scope of the inquest, witness evidence and disclosure.
- There is a move towards providing disclosure electronically where practicable.
6. Witness evidence
- A Coroner may direct that a witness may give evidence via a video link or from behind a screen in appropriate circumstances.
7. Reports on action to prevent other deaths
- The Coroner is now under a duty to make such reports, with a view to preventing other deaths.
- The recipient of such a report must provide details of any action that has been taken or which is proposed to be taken in response to the report or provide an explanation as to why no action is proposed. The response must be provided to the Coroner within 56 days of the date on which the report is sent.
- There has been no change to the appeal system and judicial review remains the main way to challenge decisions.
It remains to be seen whether:
- the changes lead to consistency of approach, especially in terms of how individual Coroners apply the procedure in practice.
- the changes improve dialogue and engagement of families of the Deceased.
- efficiency is improved by virtue of the requirement to report investigations not being concluded within 12 months to the Chief Coroner.
- the Chief Coroner will be able to adequately monitor the effectiveness of the system to ensure that it operates efficiently and consistently.