Shipman families lawyer welcomes Government reform of the Coroners system but says all loopholes need closing

Harold Shipman law reforms


The lawyer who represents over 200 families of people murdered by Harold Shipman, today welcomed Government plans to shake up the archaic coroners system in England & Wales. However, Ann Alexander of Irwin Mitchell solicitors said there had not yet been enough consultation with those most affected by the reforms. And she raised concerns as to why it has taken 3 years to publish the Bill since recommendations to change the system were first outlined by the Shipman inquiry.

The proposals in today's draft Coroners Reform Bill include the appointment of a chief coroner to oversee the work of all coroners. In addition, relatives will be allowed the right to a second opinion on death certification. And the system of part-time coroners is to be abolished and replaced by a system of full-time, legally qualified coroners.

Ann Alexander said "These reforms are long overdue, but is only part of the reforms needed to ensure that another Shipman cannot be allowed to happen. It is imperative that that all of Dame Janet Smith's recommendations concerning what happens when someone dies are addressed, not just the Coroners system."

In the Third Report of the Shipman inquiry, published on the 14th July 2003, Dame Janet Smith, the Chairman of the inquiry, considered the present system for death and cremation certification and for the investigation of deaths by coroners, together with the conduct of those who had operated those systems in the aftermath of the deaths of Shipman's victims. Dame Janets recommendations included an improved system of death investigation and certification and, in particular, reform to the cremation regulations.

Reform to the system of medical certification of the cause of death, and a strengthening of regulation surrounding cremation was first formerly investigated by the Brodrick Committee as long ago as 1971. The reforms were opposed and never implemented.

Ann Alexander said "Shipman was a doctor who avoided the law whilst murdering his patients by exploiting all the loopholes in the current system. This bill will go a long way towards closing one of these loopholes, but others remain and require urgent attention. On behalf of the families, who fought long and hard for a public inquiry into the Shipman tragedy, I am calling on the Government to implement all the reforms recommended by the Shipman inquiry."

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