Kenneth Clarke (Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State, Justice; Rushcliffe, Conservative)
Further to the ministerial statements on
It is my intention that the Office of Chief Coroner be listed in schedule 5—Power to modify or transfer functions: bodies and offices of the Public Bodies Bill which will allow for the transfer of certain of the chief coroner’s statutory functions without the abolition of the Office of Chief Coroner. This takes into account concerns expressed by stakeholders and Members of another place about the abolition of the office. The transfer of functions is, of course, subject to the outcome of the progress of the Bill through Parliament and a subsequent order to transfer functions made under the Act.
Reallocation of the Statutory Functions of the Chief Coroner
The table below details those statutory functions of the chief coroner, as set out in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which the Government propose to transfer to either the Lord Chief Justice or the Lord Chancellor. Where a function is not to be transferred from the chief coroner, this is because it is not possible to implement them in a cost-neutral manner as required in the current economic climate.
|Section||Description of Statutory Function of Chief Coroner||Transfer of F unction|
|1,2,3||Chief coroner to direct a coroner to conduct an investigation.||Lord Chief Justice|
|12 & 13||Chief coroner to notify Lord Advocate that an investigation should take place under the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiry Act 1976. Chief coroner to direct a coroner to conduct an investigation in England or Wales where the body is brought into Scotland.||Lord Chief Justice|
|14||Chief coroner to designate medical practitioners for the purpose of performing post mortems.||Lord Chancellor|
|16||Senior coroner conducting an investigation which is not completed within one year to notify the chief coroner of that fact and notify the chief coroner of the date on which the investigation is completed. Chief coroner to keep a register of notifications given under this section.||Lord Chancellor: function limited to collation of reports and keeping of the register.|
|17||The chief coroner must— Monitor investigations into service deaths. Secure that coroners conducting such investigations are suitably trained to do so.||Provision not to be implemented: training to be dealt with under section 37 (see below)|
|18||Lord Chancellor to consult the chief coroner before making regulations relating to medical practitioner notifications||Lord Chief Justice to be consulted in lieu of the chief coroner|
|36||Chief coroner to report to the Lord Chancellor each year. Coroners to report action to prevent other deaths to the chief coroner.||Requirement for an annual report to be submitted to the Lord Chancellor not to be implemented. Reports from coroners on action to prevent other deaths to be submitted to the Lord Chancellor in lieu of the chief coroner.|
|37||Chief coroner to make regulations on training.||Lord Chief Justice|
|40||Chief coroner to be responsible for a new appeals system.||Not to be implemented|
|41||Investigation to be conducted by the chief coroner, Coroner for Treasure, judge, former judge or former coroner. Chief coroner to request that the Lord Chief Justice appoint a judge or former judge so to act.||Lord Chancellor to request the Lord Chief Justice to appoint a judge.|
|42||Lord Chancellor to issue guidance on the way in which the coroner’s system is to operate in respect of interested persons following consultation with the chief coroner.||Lord Chief Justice to be consulted in lieu of the chief coroner.|
The proposed reallocation of functions has been agreed with the Lord Chief Justice. In practice it is likely that the Lord Chief Justice will delegate the exercise of these functions to another judge. As the functions to be transferred are limited, and the Office of Chief Coroner not filled, neither the judge nor any other individual will be responsible for the leadership, culture or behaviour of coroners. As now, complaints about a coroner’s personal conduct should be made to the Office for Judicial Complaints; all complaints about the administration of the coroner service or the conduct of coroners’ officers should be raised with the relevant coroner or the local authority (if it relates to the service provided).
Proposals for oversight of the non-judicial aspects of the service provided by coroners and how we achieve, maintain and monitor changes to those services in the absence of a chief coroner are set out below.
Since the parliamentary debate on abolition of the chief coroner during Lords Committee stage of the Public Bodies Bill on
These discussions have resulted in a proposal for a ministerial board which would be focused on matters of policy, the standards of service and other administrative aspects of the delivery of the coroner service which are non-judicial in nature. The board would be responsible for advising the Lord Chancellor on his statutory duties and on the setting of priorities for action with regards to policy on coroners at a national level, where these do not impact on judicial independence or judicial matters. It would be advised and supported by a Bereaved Organisations Committee, which would be independently chaired, and represented on the ministerial board. The committee would have a particular remit in monitoring the non-judicial “National Charter for the Coroner Service” which we published for consultation on
The ministerial board would be able to look at specific issues that may exist and consider whether there may be appropriate action to address these. In addition, the board would consider national statistics gathered from the coroner service in England and Wales to support the action plan for reform. The routine quarterly publication of progress on inquests of service personnel killed in operations and exercises overseas provides a model for transparency.
This proposal enables representatives of those who use and are affected by the coroner service to give direct feedback to Ministers on the overall administrative standards of service that coroners provide. The terms of reference for the ministerial board will reflect the judicial independence of coroners; the board will have no remit to look at those judicial services delivered by coroners.
Copies of the “Reallocation of Statutory Functions of the chief coroner” table have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, in the Vote Office and in the Printed Paper Office. Copies of the consultation on the national charter were placed there on