Coronial Law Changes

In his last Annual Report (2015-2016) published on 8 September 2016, the outgoing Chief Coroner Sir Peter Thornton QC highlighted the unprecedented rise in the number of inquests as a result of the automatic need to refer to the coroner the death of anyone who had been subject to a Deprivation of Liberty Safeguarding authorisation (DoLs) or a Court of Protection order. He called for a change in the law to remove such cases from the category of “being detained by the state.” This recommendation was taken  up in the Policing and Crime Act 2017.  Any deaths since 3 April 2017 where the deceased was subject to DoLs or a Court of Protection Order no longer require automatic referral to the coroner. This should reduce the number of inquests and relieve many families of the distress of having to go through an inquest which would otherwise have been unnecessary.

15 June 2018 Lord Chancellor’s Exceptional Case Funding Guidance (Inquests) was changed. The changes relate to the award of legal aid for the representation of bereaved families for Article 2 inquests involving non-natural deaths or suicides of a person in custody (deaths in prison, whilst detained by the police or in a mental health unit.) The guidance suggests that whilst not guaranteed ,legal aid is likely to be granted for these types of cases. Now caseworkers have a discretion whether to apply the financial means test. Before making the decision there are a number of factors for the caseworkers to consider. They are required to give particular consideration to the circumstances of the bereaved applicant such as the emotional distress, mental health condition or disorder (suffered as a result of the death), whether English is the first language, the level of education, or if they have a learning disability.  This easing to make the availability of legal aid more widely available is good news. However, deaths in custody  at 2% are a tiny proportion of all the reported deaths. According to the Chief Coroner’s Inquest statistics for 2017 there was an 8% decrease in deaths in state detention that were reported to coroners.

18 June 2018 Section 21 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 came into force. This allows for the appointment of a National Medical Examiner. A national system of medical examiners is expected to be introduced in April 2019.

Legal Aid funding for Inquests Review. 19 July 2018 the Minister of Justice Lucy Frazer QC MP announced the evidence gathering stage of the government’s review to determine whether legal aid should be available to support bereaved families during inquests. The closing date for evidence is 31 August 2018. The call for evidence is directed at anyone who has experienced the inquest process including bereaved families and their representatives, voluntary supporters, solicitors, barristers and coroners.

26 July 2018 the case of Maughan, R v Senior Coroner for Oxfordshire [2018] EWHC 1955 (Admin) the High Court ruled that the standard of proof required for a conclusion of suicide, whether recorded short-form or as a narrative statement is on the balance of probabilities. [See case law summaries]

In February 2019 the Government Review of Legal Aid for Inquests was published. It rejected any changes to the current system of Exceptional Case Funding for families seeking legal aid for inquests where the state was providing legal funding for one or more interested persons.

Inquest Representation Service provides legal advice and legal representation to individuals, professionals, businesses and other organisations. Call us on 033 00 77 00 97

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