A consultation on changes to rules for cremations will take place later this year. It will include government proposals to tackle the issues revealed by an independent report published last month into practices at Emstrey Crematorium in Shropshire. The report found unacceptable failures in the cremation of infants which denied families the closure they deserved.
A separate review will be carried out of the out-of-hours services provided by coroners in England and Wales to make sure they are sensitive to the needs of the whole community, including those whose beliefs require burials to take place quickly.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has also announced today that an additional review will be launched by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) into existing crematorium facilities, to make sure they are adequate for all community needs in the present day.
Together the moves will form an important part of the government’s ongoing commitment to support grieving relatives dealing with the loss of loved ones.
Justice Minister Caroline Dinenage said:
“I am taking action to make sure that after a cremation infant ashes are returned to bereaved families.
“Parents should not have to experience any additional grief like those affected by the issues in Emstrey have faced.
“I am also continuing work to make sure bereaved people are at the very heart of the coroner system – it is paramount that the services are there to help the whole community.”
Recommendations from the Emstrey Crematorium report and a separate investigation in Scotland by Lord Bonomy, the Infant Cremation Commission, will be considered as part of the cremation law proposals which will be put for consultation.
The review of out-of-hours coroner services follows meetings Justice Secretary Michael Gove has had with faith groups on improving coroner services, including around developing a service across London to aid the whole community. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) is continuing to work with the Chief Coroner, London local authorities and the Metropolitan and City police on the issue.
These latest government changes follow a series of improvements to services for bereaved people in recent years, including:
- creation of a new national code of practice for coroners – setting out what service and standards bereaved people can expect from coroners
- appointment of the first ever Chief Coroner of England and Wales (His Honour Judge Peter Thornton QC) to oversee the coroner system
- requiring inquests to be completed within 6 months of the date on which the coroner is made aware of the death, unless there are good reasons not to
- requiring coroners to notify those who are bereaved within a week of setting the date for the inquest
- requiring coroners to notify those who are bereaved of the date of the inquest within a week of setting the date
- providing greater access to documents and evidence, such as post-mortem reports, before the inquest takes place, to enable bereaved families to prepare for the hearing
- permitting less invasive post-mortem examinations
- speeding up the release of bodies after post-mortem examination, and requiring coroners to notify the deceased’s next of kin or personal representative if the body cannot be released within 28 days
The impact of all these changes will be considered as part of the review.