Session 2005-06, 7 November
COMMITTEE EXPRESSES DISAPPOINTMENT AT GOVERNMENT'S RESPONSE ON CORONERS REFORM
The Government today publishes its response to the Commons Constitutional Affairs Committee's report on reform of the Coroners System.
Commenting on the Government's response, the Chairman of the Committee Rt Hon Alan Beith MP said:
While we welcome the fact that the Government has accepted a number of our recommendations, they have failed to address the central problem of the reform proposals: namely, that they will do nothing to correct the uneven pattern of support and staffing for coroners in England and Wales.
Coroners will still be left relying on local negotiations and ad hoc arrangements while trying to provide a professional service to the bereaved. The appointment of a Chief Coroner to create national leadership is unfortunately not the same as putting in place the clear national funding and organisational mechanisms that would ensure Coroners operate in a standardised, securely resourced framework.
We hope that the Government will take our recommendations and those of others it is consulting into more careful consideration in constructing the final Bill and we will return to this issue when the Bill is published.
In a strongly worded report published on 1 August this year, the Committee argued that the coronial system lacks national direction, with wide variations in regional practice, and that under the reforms proposed in the draft Bill the coronial system would remain essentially locally resourced, with a legal framework for the functions of a coroner that is by no means clear:
...local and police authorities provide varying degrees of financial and administrative support for the coronial system, there are also hidden subsidies, the magnitude of which is almost impossible to calculate. The system is beleaguered, with insufficient training for coroners and their staff, inadequate funding, a lack of facilities and uneven distribution of resources, leading to inconsistent levels of service across England and Wales.
The Committee recommended that the Government create a national service with central and adequate funding so that all coroners are able to work to the same high standards.
The Committee also suggested in the report that Government was "wasting a golden opportunity" to reform the system of death certification and investigation in England and Wales, which dates partly from Victorian times. The Committee said that although the draft Bill on Coroners Reform would do much to improve the coronial system, it would do nothing to remedy the "critical defects in the death certification system".
The Committee concluded that, because neither DCA nor the Department of Health appeared to be taking responsibility for death certification, "if anything specific is being done at all, it amounts to tinkering at the edges of a system which has already been deemed unsafe and unsatisfactory by two Government-commissioned reviews".
The Government reiterates in its response that it did not intend to reform the death certification system with this Bill.
1. The Committee's Report Reform of the coroners' system and death certification (HC 902-I), is available on the Committee's website: www.parliament.uk/conaffcom
2. The Government's Response to the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee's Report (Cm 6943) can be found on the Department for Constitutional Affairs Website: www.dca.gov.uk
4. Committee Membership is as follows: Rt Hon Alan Beith MP (Chairman), James Brokenshire MP David Howarth MP, Siân James MP, Mr Piara S Khabra MP, Jessica Morden MP, Julie Morgan MP, Mr Andrew Tyrie MP, Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Dr Alan Whitehead MP, Jeremy Wright MP
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