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Volume 450: debated on Monday 23 October 2006

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs if she will make it her policy that inquests into the deaths of soldiers in Iraq be undertaken by the coroner whose area of jurisdiction covers the home address of the soldier in question. (96146)

The law and guidance relevant to deaths abroad is set out as follows.

In accordance with section 8 of the Coroners Act 1988 a coroner must hold an inquest when it is reported to him that the body of a deceased person is lying in his district and the death was violent, unnatural or sudden or of unknown cause. In 1983 the Appeal Court ruled in the case of R. v. West Yorkshire Coroner ex parte Smith that this duty applied (in respect of the legislation then extant and which remains unchanged) even in cases where both the death and its cause occurred outside England and Wales and was not discretionary. Under section 14 of the 1988 Act the coroner who has the body may request another coroner to hold the inquest if it is expedient to do so.

In 1983 the Home Office (then responsible for coroners’ law) issued a circular to all coroners drawing their attention to the Smith judgment and advising that, in cases involving a single death from outside England and Wales, the coroner local to where the funeral is to be held should normally deal with the inquest. It is for the coroner for the district where the body first arrived from abroad to make the decision whether to ask the local coroner to take the case in accordance with section 14 of the 1988 Act. The circular also advised that, where more than one death occurred abroad in the same incident, the coroner for the district where the bodies first arrived should retain jurisdiction.