There has been talk about this for some time. It’s been in the Queen’s speech for a number of years and several draft Bills have gone out for consultation, but at long last reform seems to be on the way with the recent publication of the Coroners and Justice Bill 2009.

The main changes are:

  • Chief Coroner to be appointed – to provide national leadership and greater consistency across the service;
  • new right of appeal against coroners’ decisions (to the Chief Coroner). Better complaints management;
  • “a charter for bereaved people”; a general standard of service to be set out and which bereaved people can expect to get;
  • national standards and guidance, statistics and reports to be available to improve coronial investigations and prevent future deaths;
  • better training of coroners and staff;
  • better and independent medical scrutiny of deaths not investigated by the coroner; and
  • a system of independent inspection by the Inspectorate of Courts Administration.

The coronial service is to remain funded by local authorities. Coroners are still to be appointed by local authorities but there will be more full-time coroners to preside over larger areas. In future, coroners must have a legal qualification on appointment and medical only coroners will be phased out. Medical support is promised to include a National Medical Adviser and local Medical Examiners.

The Bill was introduced into the House of Commons on 14 January and debated at second reading on 26 January. It’s currently undergoing scrutiny in the Public Bill Committee and we will advise and comment further when it becomes law.