Press release

Ending the postcode lottery for inquests

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Supporting bereaved families during an inquest will be at the heart of the new coroner system in England and Wales.

Supporting bereaved families during an inquest will be at the heart of the new coroner system in England and Wales, Justice Minister Helen Grant said today.

For far too long the coroner system has lacked a national framework, meaning from one area to the next there has been a wide range of standards.

Under new plans announced today coroners will:

  • be subject to stricter time limits for completing an inquest;
  • have to report any cases that last more than a year to the Chief Coroner;
  • be required to release bodies for funerals within 30 days;
  • provide greater access to materials, such as post-mortem reports, before the inquest takes place; 
  • be able to make use of new technologies so that vulnerable witnesses can give evidence via video link;
  • be subject to new mandatory training requirements.

Justice Minister Helen Grant said:

‘We need to end the postcode lottery that has plagued the coroner system for too long.

‘We want a system that puts the needs of bereaved people first and foremost.

‘I want to see all coroners delivering the same, efficient service across the board. We must be assured that coroners are conducting inquests quickly, with adequate care and with the right support available for relatives.’

The reforms will also half the time limit (from 56 to 28 days) which organisations have to respond to a coroner report on preventing future deaths (currently known as ‘rule 43 reports’).

The proposals are part of a new consultation which sets out the next stage in the Government’s ongoing overhaul of the coroner system.

The Government has already implemented the role of Chief Coroner, with the Lord Chief Justice appointing His Honour Judge Peter Thornton QC as the first Chief Coroner of England and Wales, in May last year. He will play a key role in implementing new national standards which will bring greater consistency of practice between coroner areas. From this summer, the Chief Coroner will also have a full range of powers to drive up standards.

In 2012 the Government also issued new guidance for bereaved people’ which sets out the standards they can expect to receive from local coroner services.

Notes to editors

  1. The consultation will run until 12 April 2013. A response paper will be published online in late spring 2013. The Government intends to implement the reforms in summer 2013.
  2. View the consultation.
  3. The WMS can be found on the parliament website
  4. For more information call the Ministry of Justice press office on 0203 334 3536. Follow us on twitter @MoJPress.
  5. Some factual notes on the inquest process are set out below:
    • An inquest is a fact-finding inquiry into a violent or unnatural death, a sudden death of unknown cause, or a death which has occurred in prison to establish who has died, and how, when and where the death occurred.
    • The inquest is conducted by a coroner, and s/he hears evidence relating to the body and the circumstances of the death of a deceased person.
    • The inquest is a form of public inquiry to determine the truth. It is not a trial so there are no formal parties. 
    • The inquest verdict cannot be framed in such a way as to appear to determine matters of criminal liability on the part of a named person or civil liability.

For further information on view the coroners and inquests pages.