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Volume 229: debated on Tuesday 27 July 1993

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To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what action will be taken to ensure that the operation of the inquest system is expedited.

Under the present inquest procedures in Northern Ireland, decisions about the commencement, adjournment and timing of a particular inquest are matters largely for the coroner tasked with responsibility for the conduct of the inquest. The Government are satisfied that those arrangements are right in principle, because the coroner is in the best position to judge these matters based on his knowledge of all the circumstances of the case. In a small minority of cases, there is a degree of unavoidable delay due to a range of factors, such as the complexity of the circumstances giving rise to the death; the necessary time taken by the authorities fully to investigate the circumstances of the death, to make proper decisions about criminal prosecutions, and to bring appropriate cases to trial; and legal challenges to coroners' decisions made in the higher courts by the next-of-kin of the deceased or other interested parties. The Government are conscious, as are the coroners and all those involved in the inquest system, of the need to ensure that delays in the holding of inquests are kept to a minimum. The Government believe, nevertheless, that the present arrangements generally work well in practice and do not propose any action at this time.