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.
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”.