Friday, 23 January 2009

Coroners and Justice Bill

The long-awaited Coroners and Justice Bill has been published, having finally been included in the Queen's speach in December.

The Bill repeals the Coroners Act 1988, and Part 1 sets out the duty on Coroners to investigate certain deaths (where the Coroner has reason to suspect that the deceased died a violent or unnatural death, or where the cause of death is unknown, or where the deceased died in custody/ state detention).

Of great interest in the UK is the introduction of reforms of the death certification process, and the Bill sets out a new duty on Primary Care Trusts (England) and Local Health Boards (Wales) to appoint 'medical examiners' to scrutinise, and enquire into, deaths in which doctors have issued Medical Certificates of Cause of Death - a function proposed in a Department of Health consultation last year.

A new duty on medical practitioners to notify the Coroner of a death 'of which they are aware' is also included in the Bill, following a consultation last year by the Ministry of Justice. Regulations detailing the circumstances in which such a death should be reported will apparently follow after enactment of the Bill.

The Bill creates a new Chief Coroner (to be a judge of the High Court or a Circuit judge) who will lead a new national Coroner Service.

The Bill's progress through Parliament will be eagerly followed by practitioners in the UK, and a new post will follow when the Bill receives Royal Assent.