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Inquests: Coroners’ Decisions

Volume 678: debated on Tuesday 14 July 2020

If he will undertake a review of the process of appealing a coroner’s decision not to hold an inquest. (904691)

We recognise the importance of bereaved families being able to seek an independent review of a coroner’s decision. Section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988, as amended, provides for the Attorney General to make or authorise an application to the High Court to consider whether an inquest should be held where a coroner has not held one. Individuals can also bring claims for a judicial review of a coroner’s decision. The Justice Committee has recently opened an inquiry into the coroner service, and we will consider its report and recommendations.

The new senior coroner for Merseyside has agreed to an inquest into the death of Laura Higginson in my constituency. The family’s request for an inquest under the previous coroner was turned down, despite new evidence being available. If the original decision had not been changed, then the family’s only option would have been to resort to a judicial review. Will the Minister look again at repealing section 40 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 to see whether we could have a much easier and less expensive way of families being able to challenge coroners’ decisions?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his campaigning work in this regard. He is absolutely right that Mrs Higginson’s sad death in 2017 is now subject to an inquest, for the reasons that he indicated. I thank him for the parliamentary questions that he has submitted on this issue. It is not absolutely right to say that the only option is a judicial review. For the reasons that I indicated, people can petition the Attorney General, and indeed the Solicitor General, for that to take place. But he raises an important issue, and of course we keep this under consideration. I cannot tell him that there are immediate plans to do as he suggests, but we will of course consider it.