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Coroners

Volume 449: debated on Tuesday 25 July 2006

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what steps she is taking to reduce delays in the coroners’ service. (84516)

There are measures in the draft Coroners Bill which will assist coroners to operate more effectively, in particular the appointment of a Chief Coroner to provide national leadership and to introduce national standards, including on the timely hearing of inquests. The Chief Coroner will have oversight of the workload of coroners and, subject to the views of relatives and other interested parties and taking account of the requirements of the new coroners charter for bereaved people, he or she will be able to reallocate cases to reduce the length of time it takes for an investigation to be completed. The Chief Coroner will make an annual report to the Lord Chancellor on the performance of the coroner system and, in turn, the Lord Chancellor will ensure the report is laid before Parliament. A Coronial Advisory Council will also be appointed to provide advice, and make recommendations, to the Chief Coroner and Lord Chancellor on any matters relating to the operation of the coroner system.

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what mechanisms are available to members of the public to make complaints about coroners. (84576)

In the event that a complainant is unable to resolve the matter with the coroner, a complaint about the personal conduct of a coroner can be made to the Office for Judicial Complaints. Coroners were brought into the remit of the disciplinary provisions of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 on 3 April 2006. Regulations made under the Act, entitled “Judicial Discipline (Prescribed Procedures) Regulations 2006”, set out the responsibilities of the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice, and the Office for Judicial Complaints, with regard to the handling of complaints and the discipline of judicial office holders. Further information is available on the website of the Office for Judicial Complaints, at www.judicialcomplaints.gov.uk.

Where a member of the public wishes to challenge a judicial decision made by a coroner, this must be pursued through the court process. The draft Coroners Bill provides for new appeal arrangements which will make it easier for the public to seek review of coroners' decisions, relating to both an investigation and an inquest. The procedure for complaining about coroners' personal conduct will remain the same.