Bereaved families must not be sidelined in coroner plans
Government moves to clear the backlog of inquests in coroner’s courts must not hinder any family’s fight for answers about their loved one’s death, campaigners have warned.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) has called for safeguards to be included in the Judicial Review and Courts Bill.
“These are realistic and sensible requests, which are important for bereaved families,” said Neil McKinley, APIL’s president.
“The Government’s aim with the Bill is to reduce unnecessary procedures, in particular because cases have accumulated during the pandemic. But some protections for families need to be put in place so that cases are not simply hurried along and families are not side-lined in the process,” he said.
“Coroners will have more powers to discontinue an investigation if the cause of death becomes clear, but it is vital that the relatives are given an explanation as standard, not just on request as is the case currently,” he explained.
“Technology makes it possible to hold inquests online, but it should not be the norm. A clause in the Bill for inquests to be held remotely if the participants can join online needs to be changed so that the agreement of the families is required.
“To be in court physically can make a great difference to relatives in gaining closure on what has happened. It also allows families to be supported professionally, and emotionally, by their lawyers.
“APIL is entirely opposed to hearings or evidence to be conducted through audio only. Witnesses need to be seen so it is possible to know if they are being prompted on what to say, and a coroner needs to see the body language of witnesses if their credibility needs to be questioned.”
The Judicial Review and Courts Bill will enter report stage in the House of Commons on Tuesday 25 January.