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

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Excerpts
Friday 24th May 2024

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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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.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I understand that guidance from the Chief Coroner explains that great weight should be given in particular to the wishes of the family. I accept, as others have said, that there are very serious delays in the coronial system. The example given by the noble Baroness sounds like a highly regrettable situation and I will ask my officials to look further into it.

I venture to say that the coronial system, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, has just observed, is ripe for a fairly thorough review. This division between local authority responsibility and judicial responsibility is probably not the most efficient or sensible arrangement. That is something we should do, both from the point of view of families going through a very traumatic situation of bereavement—it is very serious when things such as those mentioned by the noble Baroness happen. The point about witnesses is also a very fair and important one. This is ongoing work to tackle the delays in the coronial system and its general efficiency.