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Coroners

Volume 488: debated on Wednesday 25 February 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what estimate he has made of the number of coroners' inquests likely to be held without a jury on the grounds of (a) national security, (b) the relationship between the United Kingdom and another country, (c) preventing or detecting crime, (d) protecting the safety of a witness or other person and (e) otherwise preventing real harm to the public interest, under clause 11 of the Coroners and Justice Bill, during the first year of operation of the legislation. (257292)

At present, less than 2 per cent. of inquests are held with a jury (in 2007, 540 out of 30,841, or 1.75 per cent.), and we anticipate that only a very small number of those cases, perhaps one or two each year, will be affected by clause 11 of the Coroners and Justice Bill. It is not possible to speculate which limbs of the definition these one or two cases will fall under.

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice on how many occasions an inquest has been closed without a recorded verdict in each of the last five years. (257635)

An inquest may be adjourned under section 16 of the Coroners Act 1988 pending the outcome of criminal proceedings for a homicide offence relating to the death. An inquest may be adjourned under section 17A of the 1988 Act where there is a judicial public inquiry into the death and the Lord Chancellor considers that the cause of death will be adequately investigated by the inquiry. In section 16 cases, the coroner will only resume the inquest after the conclusion of the criminal proceedings if in his opinion there is “sufficient reason” to do so. In section 17A cases, the coroner will only resume the inquest after the public inquiry if in his option there is “exceptional reason” to do so.

The number of inquests which were adjourned and not resumed by coroners in England and Wales prior to a verdict being reached, in each year between 2003 and 2007, is provided in the following table:

Number

2003

908

2004

943

2005

1,008

2006

956

2007

926

Statistics for 2008 are not yet available, but are due to be published on the Ministry of Justice website in May in the National Statistics bulletin: “Statistics on deaths reported to coroners, England and Wales”.