The Government had previously announced that, as part of its spending cuts, it would scrap the position of Chief Coroner. The suggestion was supported by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke.
However, after pressure from families of bereaved soldiers and the Royal British Legion, Clarke yesterday announced that the position would remain in place.
The office of Chief Coroner was set-up under the previous Labour Government, and was instituted to create a more consistent service across the country’s coroners. However, the position has never been filled.
Clarke now hopes that by keeping, and filling, the office of Chief Coroner a more reliable service will be delivered by its trained specialists.
“Everyone is agreed that the priority is raising the standards of coroners’ inquiries and inquests to ensure that bereaved families are satisfied with the whole process. I am therefore giving the Chief Coroner the full range of powers to drive up standards.”
Clarke’s proposal was the cause of wide disagreement and threatened the success of the Government’s Public Bodies Bill, which came before the House of Lords earlier this week. Although the opposition welcomed the move in principle, the Shadow Defence Secretary, Jim Murphy, said, “The Government is doing the right thing but for the wrong reasons.”
Announcing his change of heart, Clarke said that he had taken into account the concerns which had been brought to his attention. “Over recent months I have listened to and reflected on the concerns raised across Parliament, by families and by other groups, including the Royal British Legion, that a single figure needs to be responsible for the coroner system.
“I am prepared to have one last try to meet those arguments and so have taken the decision to implement the office of the chief coroner. The existing mechanisms for challenging a coroner’s decision will remain in place and will avoid the need for expensive new appeal rights.
“The new post will be focused on working to deliver the reform to coroners’ services that we all want to see…”
Murphy stressed that the role’s success will depend on the particular powers awarded to the office. “The post of chief coroner will create an independent and expert coronial system for all bereaved families and will help drive up standards. The detail of this decision is very important and we will want to see specifics.
“The Royal British Legion deserve huge praise for a brilliant campaign.”
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