Coroners' System

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 15th July 2008.

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Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Minister, International Development, Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions 2:30 pm, 15th July 2008

When he plans to bring forward legislation to reform the coroners' system.

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Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the coroners and death certification Bill was put into the draft legislative programme in May. I look forward to working with him and others to ensure that it makes its passage through Parliament in the new Session. In the meantime, I have put in place a number of measures that we can use without legislation to move some of these issues forward.

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Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Minister, International Development, Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions

The families of Scottish constituents and Scottish soldiers who have died abroad must go through a complex procedure, particularly when fatal accident inquiries are involved. With the Cullen review now in progress, what discussions is the Minister having to ensure that the families of Scots who have died abroad are not subject to undue delays during what is a difficult time for them?

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Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. I regret the fact that the families of Scottish military who have died abroad have to come to England in order to take part in inquests. While I understand that the Cullen review is going ahead in Scotland, I also hope that the Scottish Parliament will seriously consider making inquest procedure applicable in Scotland so that Scottish families will be able to use it. People may not necessarily be aware that there is no inquest procedure in Scotland, which I think is something to be regretted.

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Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party

May I thank the Minister for her reply? Given that the coroners Bill will be going forward only in the next Session, would the Government think better about pushing ahead with part 6 of the current Counter-Terrorism Bill, which could make sweeping provisions in respect of coroners' courts, giving Ministers the power to sack both coroners and jurors?

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Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice

I understand what my hon. Friend says, but may I say that it is for my colleagues in the Home Office to respond in detail to those issues. If he puts that question to them, I am sure that he will receive a reasonable response.

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

A few months ago, I had a harrowing meeting with the parents of someone who lost their life while in police custody. They were very unhappy with the coroners' system as they believed that the information provided before the coroner's hearing was very weak and that not all the relevant evidence had been provided. Before the Bill comes forward in the next Session, can anything be done to beef up the system so that interested parties can acquire more information before they attend the inquest?

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Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The most important part of the coroners Bill is the principle of putting bereaved families at the heart of the system, which means ensuring that they get all the information they need beforehand. In some areas, support teams take the families through what the procedure will be; indeed, good coroners do that as a matter of course. We are publishing a draft charter for bereaved families, which is currently out to consultation, and it will include many of the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman. If he has any further specific questions, I would be more than happy to respond to them.

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Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon PPS (Jim Knight, Minister of State), Department for Children, Schools and Families

The proposed Bill will give extended powers to coroners to carry out further investigations. Has my hon. Friend considered the usefulness of psychological autopsies, particularly where, as in my constituency, there have been clusters of suicides? They would help to provide a clearer picture of exactly what lay behind the problems so that we could target the relevant services to solve them.

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Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice

I know that my hon. Friend has taken a close interest in this issue, and we extend our condolences to the families of the young people involved in those recent tragedies in her constituency. My hon. Friend has raised the matter of psychological autopsies before and I have asked my officials to look further into it. If we can come up with a means to make this a useful part of the coroner's remit, I will come back to her with further information.

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