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Armed Forces: Coroners

Volume 464: debated on Wednesday 10 October 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence pursuant to his oral answer of 16 July 2007, Official Report, column 16, on military inquests, how many military coroners inquests are outstanding; on what dates he held meetings with ministerial colleagues to discuss outstanding coroners' inquests since he came into office; what discussions he has had with the (a) Leader of the House and (b) the Secretary of State for Justice on military inquests since 12 July 2007; and what his definition is of backlog. (151600)

[holding answer 23 July 2007]: The scheduling of inquests touching on the deaths of Service personnel is a matter for the relevant coroner across England and Wales. As at 28 September 2007, 120 inquests had been completed on Service personnel killed on operations since 2001, 80 of which have been held since the Government took steps to speed up the process on 5 June 2006. 131 inquests remain open: 45 within the jurisdiction of the Oxfordshire Coroner; 44 for the Swindon and Wiltshire Coroner; and 42 for other coroners.

Of the original backlog of 59 inquests identified in the joint Written Ministerial Statement on 5 June 2006, Official Report, column 4WS, two remain open within the Oxfordshire Coroner's jurisdiction, one of which has been scheduled. There is one inquest into the deaths of the 10 service personnel killed in the Hercules crash in January 2005 open within the Swindon and Wiltshire Coroner's jurisdiction.

I regard a backlog as having arisen when the volume of inquests makes it difficult for a coroner to conduct the necessary investigations and inquests in a timely manner. Additional resources have been made available by the MOD and the Ministry of Justice to meet the needs of the Oxfordshire and Wiltshire Coroners. We will keep the need for any further resources under close review.

Defence Ministers have engaged closely and regularly with colleagues in the Department for Constitutional Affairs/Ministry of Justice and there have been five joint Written Ministerial Statements to update Parliament on this issue and the additional resources made available. The most recent joint Written Ministerial Statement was made by myself and the Minister for Justice on 20 June 2007, Official Report, column 97WS).