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Families 'at centre of inquests'

Chief Coroner Judge Peter Thornton insists bereaved families will be put at the centre of the inquest system by Government changes newly coming into force.

Coroners will be required to complete inquests within six months of being made aware of a death as part of a wider overhaul unveiled earlier this month, which also includes reporting any cases that last more than a year to Judge Thornton.

A new national code is to be formed to make sure all 96 coroners in England and Wales are working to the same standards.

Coroners will also be able to speed up the release of bodies after post-mortem examinations to allow burials and cremations to take place without the need for an inquest to be opened.

Judge Thornton, who is the first person to take up the chief coroner role, said there has been a "variable" service as coroners have been appointed and funded locally. But he said he will have no extra resources to ensure coroners adhere to the new standards and he will have to encourage local authorities to give what is necessary.

Judge Thornton told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The whole purpose is really to put bereaved families at the centre of the process and they must be a focus for a more efficient, effective and modern coroner's service.

"For example, now there will be dates set earlier for inquests; inquests should usually be within six months; if they are over 12 months they must be reported to me and I will investigate.

"The process is going to be more open and public - all the hearings will be recorded - and for bereaved families there should be earlier procedures, more notifications about those procedures and coroners can release bodies earlier for burial and cremation without the need to open an inquest, and that should be particularly welcomed by faith groups."

Judge Thornton said the system remains locally delivered but with national guidance. Asked if he will be able to intervene and provide resources to ensure a coroner meets the new standards, Judge Thornton said: "I will not have any resources.

"As always, these things have to be cost-neutral in these difficult days so I shall be encouraging local authorities to give what is necessary. They have a duty under the new Act to provide reasonable services and whatever a coroner needs to carry out his or her service locally."


From Belfast Telegraph