A raft of updated guidance has come in recently from the Chief Coroner, HHJ Teague, which aims to provide assistance to coroners and inquest practitioners on developments to the law which came into effect on 28 June 2022, and improve consistency across jurisdictions. The majority of this is procedural and aimed at coroners but there are some points to note for those on the other side of the bench.
- The updated guidance notes are 14, 29, 34, 42, 43 and 44 (guidance notes 35-38 have been absorbed into note 34)
- Members of the public can now access hearings remotely, although this is not a right and is subject to permission from the Coroner. See David Reddington’s article on this here.
- Investigations can now be discontinued without holding an inquest, where there hasn’t been a post-mortem, but the investigations have revealed a natural cause of death. This is useful as it should lead to a reduction in the number of ‘small’ inquests which are usually done in writing but may occasionally require attendance of a witness if the family request it.
- Inquests can now be conducted in writing without sitting in a courtroom, subject to none of the IPs requesting a hearing, and there being no real prospect of disagreement as to the findings. Whilst this will have limited impact upon those other than coroners, in theory (yet to be tested!) this may reduce inquest backlogs as no court time is required to read out the evidence and reach a conclusion. In practice, uptake may be limited as it can be perhaps more time consuming for a written decision rather than an oral one.
- Rules are to follow to allow coroner and juries to attend hearings remotely. Currently, the coroner and jury needs to be physically in court for a hearing but the amending of this requirement may again assist with backlogs as there will be a reduced need for court space. Of note the Chief Coroner has indicated his view that juries should still be in court unless in exceptional circumstances.
- The time period within which a doctor must have seen the deceased in order to sign an MCCD has been permanently extended from 14 to 28 days (previously this was a temporary arrangement in the pandemic).
- The temporary provision which removes the need for an inquest into the death from COVID possibly contracted in the workplace to be held with a jury has been extended until June 2024 (ie no need for a jury in these cases).
- There is clearer guidance to Coroners (largely confirming previous practice) with regard to disclosure and how to properly conduct a disclosure exercise. This applies equally to documentation being requested by the Coroner and to documentation being disclosed to IPs.
For further information, please contact:
Victoria Davies, Hill Dickinson