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Charter for the bereaved offers families better service in coroners reforms

flowers at a memorial

14 January 2009

Bereaved families will have access to a new appeals and complaints system under a new 'Charter for the Bereaved' announced today in Parliament as part of the Coroners and Justice Bill published by the Justice Secretary Jack Straw.

Currently bereaved families have to apply for judicial review of a coroner's decision. Under new proposals announced in the Charter and the Bill today, families will have a right of appeal to the new position of Chief Coroner on a range of issues, including if they think there should be a post-mortem examination and if they are unhappy with the verdict of the inquest.

Justice Minister Bridget Prentice said:

'Campaigners have long argued that the coroner system should be more accountable and more responsive to the needs of bereaved families. They should be kept fully informed about developments during the coroner's investigation, and have the opportunity to challenge any decisions with which they disagree.

'We have listened to them and our Charter, which is provided by the new Coroners and Justice Bill gives the bereaved far greater powers. This is a major step forward in providing more rights to people when they are at their most vulnerable.'

The Charter will also:

  • inform bereaved people about the role and powers of the coroner
  • answer their questions about coronial procedures as promptly and effectively as possible
  • take account, where possible, of individual, family, and community wishes, feelings and expectations, including their preferences, traditions and religious requirements relating to mourning and to funerals
  • respect individual and family privacy
  • explain, where relevant and on request, why the coroner intends to take no further action in a particular case.

The Bill will also aim to increase the amount of sensitive information made available for inquests - including information which currently cannot be disclosed publicly. By holding a very small number of inquests partly in private, presided over by a High Court Judge appointed by the Lord Chief Justice, more information will be available to enable a more accurate verdict to be recorded.

The new system will also enable investigations to be transferred, by the Chief Coroner, from one area to another. This will assist in reducing backlogs and delays as happened with the deaths of military personnel in the past.

Notes to editors

1. The Charter for Bereaved People
2. Coroners and Justice Bill
3. A separate document, Sensitive Reporting in Coroners' Courts, also published today, removes plans to restrict reporting in coroners' courts from the Bill, as was previously proposed in a draft Coroners Bill.
4. For more information, please call Ministry of Justice Press Office on 020 3334 3536.