We Are Hopeful Changes Will Be Of Great Benefit,’ Says Lawyer
By Helen MacGregor
Expert lawyers at Irwin Mitchell have welcomed a new code of standards for coroners which will see most inquests in England and Wales completed within six months of an individual’s death.
The Ministry of Justice has launched the new legal framework today (25 July) following concerns that families in certain areas have had to wait years for a hearing, prolonging their grief.
Victoria Blankstone, a medical law and patients’ rights expert at Irwin Mitchell says the new code of standards will ensure families have peace of mind that their loved one’s death will be investigated as quickly as possible, providing them with much needed answers about their loss.
However, she adds that the firm does have concerns about the level of resources available to Coroners to ensure the new system can be rolled out effectively, given recent cuts by the Ministry of Justice. She also said it is disappointing that the new rules do not mandate hospital trusts found at fault to make improvements.
Victoria Blankstone commented: “This is the biggest overhaul of coronial matters for 180 years and we are hopeful that this will be of great benefit to our medical negligence clients in particular, who in some cases have waited years to have an inquest. We witness first-hand how very difficult it is for them to get closure.
“We have one case of an army veteran who suffered dementia and was struck by a train after wandering out of his care home unnoticed in February 2011.
“The inquest into the death was opened on 8 March 2011 however the full inquest will not be heard until January 2014, nearly three years after the deceased’s death. This lengthy delay has proved extremely distressing for the family as of course they want answers about the circumstances surrounding their loss.”
The service will be overseen by the First Chief Coroner Judge Peter Thornton QC and all 96 coroners across the UK will also be subject to mandatory training requirements.
The rules also mean coroners will have to release the body to the bereaved family as soon as they can, or inform them if it is going to take longer than 28 days.
Coroners will also have to notify the bereaved within a week of setting the date for the inquest and provide greater access to documents and evidence, such as post-mortem reports, before the inquest takes place.
Victoria Blankstone at Irwin Mitchell added: “Whilst we very much welcome these changes for bereaved families, we do have concerns about the lack of any new money from the Government to improve the service.
“We also have concerns that the new rules do not force hospital trusts to take specific remedial action where failures have been found, instead it is discretionary and a key issue for many of our clients who have lost loved ones is that they want the proof that lessons have been learnt from any errors made to prevent the same thing from happening again.
“To date, having a thorough and timely investigation has proved to be a postcode lottery but we are confident the reforms to the new Coroners and Justice Act 2009 will make it fairer for everyone.”
Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise relating to medical negligence claims