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Chief Coroner

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 28th June 2011.

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Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Labour, Bridgend 2:30 pm, 28th June 2011

What representations he has received on his proposals to transfer functions from the chief coroner.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour, Islwyn

Which organisations his Department consulted on its decision not to establish the office of chief coroner.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I have discussed our proposals with a number of interested parties, including peers, MPs and civil society groups such as Inquest and the Royal British Legion. We have, where possible, sought to take into account those discussions in developing the proposals announced on 14 June to transfer a number of the functions of the chief coroner while retaining the office on the statute book. We believe that represents the fastest and most efficient way of delivering reform of the coronial system, although we accept that some stakeholders would prefer us to proceed with full implementation of the office of the chief coroner.

Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Labour, Bridgend

I am still concerned about how, without the office of the chief coroner, we are going to ensure that there is greater consistency in the recording of verdicts, because having that consistency would mean that information was available that provided research capability and informed service development, so that we could prevent future deaths.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I have had a number of discussions with the hon. Lady on a number of matters appertaining to coroners and chief coroners and I know that she takes a great interest in this area. The new arrangements we announced on 14 June, coupled with the draft charter for the coroner service, which we published for consultation on 19 May, will deliver proper oversight of the non-judicial aspects of the coroner system and will help to drive up standards of service across England and Wales. The national charter, with its uniform expectations of what those coming into contact with the system should expect, will be key in helping to ensure a greater level of consistency. At the same time, a new ministerial board will be able to consider national statistics gathered from across the coroner service and to consider what action could be taken to address any shortcomings.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour, Islwyn

I wonder whether the Minister has spoken to Cardiac Risk in the Young, which believes that replacing the chief coroner’s office with a ministerial board will not deliver the improvements necessary for the 21st century.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the absolute priority as far as we were concerned was to put the reforms in the legislation into practice but in a way that was not going to incur the cost that I am afraid we cannot afford at the current time. That is what I believe our proposals will do.

Photo of Rob Flello Rob Flello Shadow Minister (Justice)

Following the Secretary of State’s most recent announcement in June, Chris Simpkins, director general of the Royal British Legion, has said:

“Ensuring there’s a functioning Chief Coroner is the least we can do to honour the ultimate sacrifice made by our Armed Forces and to ease the pain those left behind will always feel.”

Helen Shaw, co-director of Inquest, has said that instead of having a chief coroner,

“the government proposes to dismantle the office of the Chief Coroner and add yet another layer to the current, fragmented structure where lines of accountability are opaque and clear leadership is absent.”

How many organisations that, unlike the ministerial team, actually know what they are talking about will the Secretary of State ignore? As he is in the mood to do U-turns, will he do the right thing and leave the chief coroner out of the Public Bodies Bill?

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the RBL manifesto he will see that we are meeting most of its requests for reform without having a chief coroner. If we were simply leaving the office on the statute book and not implementing any changes, I would agree with that claim. However, regulations about training for coroners, including for service personnel cases, will be possible for the first time under our proposals. We will be implementing powers to transfer cases more easily within England and Wales—and for the first time to Scotland—when required for cases involving the deaths of service personnel abroad. Those are real and significant improvements to the system that will directly improve the experience of service personnel families who come into contact with the coroner system.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

One of the difficulties with these long answers is that Ministers are reading out great screeds that have been written for them. On the whole, it is better to keep that for the long winter evenings.