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Statutory Duty to Report Deaths to Coroner Modernisation and Consolidation of Cremation Regulations

Volume 476: debated on Wednesday 21 May 2008

Today I am publishing two papers which summarise the responses to the consultation papers “Statutory Duty for Doctors and other Public Service Personnel to Report Deaths to the Coroner” and “Cremation Regulations: Consolidation and Modernisation”.

A statutory duty to report deaths to coroners, to be introduced through the Coroners and Death Certification Bill, will be placed on registered medical practitioners only, although it will not prevent anyone else from being able to report a death, including family members if they have concerns. The Bill will give the Lord Chancellor the power, in consultation with the Secretary of State for Health, to make regulations which set out the circumstances in which deaths must be referred to the coroner.

The response paper indicates what we are doing ahead of legislation to take this policy forward. We will work across Government and with those who work in the coroners service to produce national guidance for England and Wales to clarify which deaths should be reported to the coroner. This national guidance will form the basis of the list of reportable deaths, and will be framed in secondary legislation and associated guidance under the Coroners and Death Certification Bill when it is implemented.

The Cremation Regulations 1930 have been amended on a number of occasions and are now seen as old-fashioned and confusing. It is intended they will be modernised and consolidated. There will also be two major policy changes. First, bereaved families will have the right to inspect the medical forms before the cremation takes place. This is an important Shipman-related reform. The families of Shipman’s victims believed that if they had had seen the cremation forms Shipman had completed about their relatives, they would have recognised that the information was wrong and Shipman would have been exposed much sooner. The Government believe that this is likely to have been the case, Secondly, the regulation on the handling of contagious diseases will be replaced by a simpler procedure permitting the rapid throughput of cases. In the light of the responses we have received, we intend to introduce the new regulations together with accompanying guidance for stakeholders before the end of the year.

The new statutory duty and the changes to the cremation regulations complement the Government’s proposals for improving the process of death certification. A summary of responses to the public consultation on these important reforms is being published today by the Department of Health.

Copies of both summary of responses have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.