Coroners (Suspension of Requirement for Jury at Inquest: Coronavirus) Regulations 2024 Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice

Coroners (Suspension of Requirement for Jury at Inquest: Coronavirus) Regulations 2024

Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Excerpts
Friday 24th May 2024

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Sandhurst Portrait Lord Sandhurst (Con)
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My Lords, I welcome these regulations. It is very important that backlogs are reduced. It is very damaging to the families and, very often, to the witnesses who may have been involved in a very serious matter that has caused them grief even if they are not a direct victim. The sooner these things are resolved, the better. It is important also that, where a jury is properly required, it is not passed to one side simply for administrative convenience.

I also take this opportunity to remind the House that, as of this date, coroners are still the responsibility of local authorities. That does not lead to efficiency or proper funding and resources. I hope that it will not be too long, as senior coroners in the past have urged, before the coronial system is put on a proper national basis within the courts service.

Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Portrait Baroness Hodgson of Abinger (Con)
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My Lords, I too welcome these regulations. I am very pleased to hear that measures are being taken to try to clear the backlogs and that the bereaved are put at the heart of the coronial cases. However, I would like to ask my noble friend a question. I have heard that, in some cases, where there have been long backlogs and families have been waiting for an inquest, unable to move forward. They have then been told that the inquest is not being held in person; it will be done on paper. I ask that the wishes of families are taken into account very seriously.

One person who contacted me about this was desperately upset. She had been waiting for an inquest and hoped that she would get answers to some of the questions she had about why her mother had one minute been coming home from hospital and, the next minute, was on an end-of-life pathway due to having picked up coronavirus. She felt that, having waited for two years and having really agonised about this, she was being brushed aside because it was being put into a paper inquest.

So I welcome these regulations, because clearly the shortest time possible between a death and an inquest is desirable. As my noble friend Lord Sandhurst said, for some of the witnesses as well it is better to close these things. However, where there have been long waits, to suddenly hear there will be a paper inquest, which the person who contacted me would not be able to be party to except to hear the results, is far from satisfactory.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, we support this SI. We thank the noble and learned Lord for everything he has said and recognise the point he made that the coroner will still have discretion, rather than there being a requirement to empanel a jury for hearings.

I want to make a slightly different point to the other noble Lords. Everyone has quite rightly said how backlogs affect families of those involved; that, of course, is true. But there is another, positive reason for continuing with the current arrangements, albeit on a temporary basis, and that is the quality of the decision-making itself. For any witnesses who are having to wait longer, there will inevitably be a degradation in their memory. For that reason—not just the very laudable reason of trying to reduce difficulties for families—the outcomes will be better through reducing the whole coronial process of reviewing these decisions.