A coroner has the duty to investigate a death abroad where the death was violent, unnatural, sudden or of unknown cause.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply. In July 2000, my constituent, Alison Miller, lost her son, Matthew, when he was knocked over and killed by a speeding driver on the island of Minorca. In Spain, when a death is accidental, prosecution has to be requested by the injured party, but because of a clerical error between the Foreign Office and the British consulate, the time limit expired before Ms Miller could file for a prosecution and she could not get access to justice for her son. What contact have my right hon. and learned Friend and her officials had with the Support Abroad for Equal Justice Foundation, which my constituent set up to ensure that other bereaved British families get access to justice abroad when they lose loved ones in such tragic circumstances?
As it turns out, before my hon. Friend tabled her question, I had already arranged to meet Alison Miller as part of a group of families who were coming to see me about the coroner system and about how we can ensure that those who are bereaved by a sudden death get answers to their questions. Relatives want answers to sudden deaths when they happen in this country, but it is especially difficult for people to get information when it happens abroad. If a local coroner cannot get information from Spain or another country that they need to complete an inquest, our new proposed chief coroner—part of the reform of the coroner system that we will put before the House—will be able to ensure that they get the information instead of struggling to do so or failing, as they often do at present.
Will the Minister investigate the extreme staffing crisis in some coroners’ courts, especially south-west London, which has resulted in prolonged delays in the hearing of cases and great distress to the families concerned?
I will look into the staffing situation in south-west London. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we plan through the coroner system reform to have national standards so that we do not have delays in certain areas. We want to have proper training and we need an overview of what resources there are to support coroners’ offices in their work. At the moment, we do not have a proper national picture and we cannot monitor the situation, but I will look into his particular concerns. Bereaved relatives need to know that there will be a prompt inquiry and that their questions will be answered.