Coronial Law Changes
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  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.
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