If bereaved families were really at the heart of the coroner system, would they need to be told?
A new guide on coroner services has been launched by the Ministry of Justice, The press release claimed that the bereaved families were to be put at the heart of the coroner system. What a shame they did not have a hand in the writing of this guide. There was no consultation with either bereaved families or the campaign groups supporting the bereaved.
If RoadPeace had been consulted, we would have urged for much more information on how to make the inquest system less traumatic for the bereaved and more effective at preventing future deaths. Less traumatic means bereaved families being better informed. Callers to our helpline continue to talk about not being prepared for inquests. Coroners are supposed to now be pro-disclosure but this does not always happen nor is it being monitored. What should families do when coroners deny them access to witness statements?
Very little is in the guide about pre-inquest hearings. But these too are important in helping families be better informed and thus better prepared for the inquest.
And what about costs of transcripts. Families were to only be charged £5 for electronic recordings but not all coroners are recording inquests. Families are still being told it will cost them hundreds of pounds to read the transcript of the inquest.
And the guide could have said much more about the duty of coroners to prevent future deaths. This is only mentioned briefly at the end of the guide. It is still very unusual for a coroner to make a report to prevent other deaths. Our analysis of the past five years of London inquests shows only one in 25 resulted in a coroner taking action to prevent future deaths. It is unlikely coroners will do more unless families demand it.
Even the title of the guide highlights how bereaved families are not at the heart of the system. A Charter for Bereaved was originally proposed. This was then amended to be A Charter for Properly Interested Persons. Now there is no mention of the bereaved or a charter with coroners and their services back at centre stage.
This will not be the last guide for bereaved families but it was a missed opportunity. It also strengthens our call for feedback to be collated from families and level of satisfaction with coroners monitored. The next guide should be based on the experiences of bereaved families. Then we can start to talk about the bereaved being at the heart of the coroner system.