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Inquest Procedure: Recommended Changes

Volume 416: debated on Wednesday 28 January 1981

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asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they have studied the report of the committee, initiated by the National Council of Civil Liberties and headed by Professor Dummett, Wykeham Professor of Logic at Oxford University, into the circumstances of the death of Mr. Blair Peach at Southall in April 1970 and what is their view specifically of each of the recommendations for changes in inquest procedure, including access by all parties to all the evidence obtained by the coroner.

The Government have studied these recommendations with interest. Some of them correspond with recommendations made in the reports of the Brodrick Committee on Death Certification and Coroners and in the third report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs on deaths in police custody. Others would be in direct conflict with the main conclusions of the report of the Brodrick Committee. The Government agree in principle that changes in the system of summoning coroners' juries in England and Wales are desirable, but this would require legislation which must await a suitable opportunity. The Brodrick Committee's proposal for the "civilianisation" of coroners' officers, also recommended recently in the third report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, is also accepted by the Government and its implementation is under consideration, in consultation with the local authority associations.The Government accept the desirability of coroners receiving training, where necessary, and welcome the initiative in this direction already taken by the Coroners Society. The Government also recognise the desirability of improving the facilities in coroners' courts. This is, however, the responsibility of local authorities and depends on the availability of resources. The rights of properly interested persons to examine witnesses were recently extended, in accordance with recommendations made by the Brodrick Committee, by the Coroners (Amendment) Rules 1980, which also abolished the right of the coroner's jury to add riders to their verdict. The Brodrick Committee considered that the coroner's court was not the right place to attribute blame, particularly since the individuals or authorities concerned would be unable to protect or justify themselves. The Government do not believe that a case has been made out for any change in the present position. The remaining recommendations, many of which fail to take account of the fact that the basic principle of inquests is that they are inquisitorial, not adversarial, and are not now concerned with questions of civil or criminal responsibility, are not acceptable to the Government.