In April 2021, a report published by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ‘Death Investigation, Coroners’ Inquests and the Rights of the Bereaved’ accused the coroner’s court system of creating “ongoing human rights violations” and called for reform.
Here, we give an overview of the coroner’s court, its purpose and the details of those recent calls for reform.
What is the coroner’s court?
In instances classified as accidental deaths, including road traffic accidents, medical negligence and death by suicide, the coroner’s court investigates the circumstances surrounding the death, and ultimately makes recommendations on how to prevent a similar situation recurring in the future. Families of the deceased attend the inquiry to hear the recommendations and take comfort in the belief that no other family will be in their position again.
Not enforceable by law
However, the recommendations made by the coroner’s court are not enforceable by law.
For example, in situations of medical negligence resulting in death, the coroner often recommends training for medical staff in a particular area. But there is no legal basis for the implementation of the recommendations.
Section 31 of the Coroner’s Act 1962 was amended by Section 19 of the Coroners (Amendment) Act 2019 to include broader wording surrounding the recommendations, and now reads “Notwithstanding anything contained in subsection (1) of this section, recommendations of a general character that are designed to prevent further fatalities or are considered necessary or desirable in the interests of public health or safety may be appended to the verdict at any inquest.”
Calls for reform of the coroner’s court
As mentioned, in April 2021, a report published by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties highlighted the need for reform of the coronial system, including the recommendations made at inquests. The report noted that failure to follow up on recommendations made at inquests for reform in policy and practice of various bodies must be addressed.
Last month, Martin Kenny TD called on the Oireachtas Justice Committee to put reform of the coroner’s court on the agenda for this year in response to pleas by families for inquest recommendations to be legally enforceable.
Ireland can look to the UK for guidance in this area, where it is a coroner’s statutory duty to write a report on how to prevent deaths occurring in the future. The report is sent to the entity or body to whom the report is relevant, and that entity has a specified period to respond, setting out a proposed plan of action and the time-frame to implement those actions.
About the Author: Nicholas Moore is a Medical Negligence Solicitor at Lavelle Partners.