Briefing Looks At Querying Coroners’ Decisions

Can a coroner’s decision be queried? A recent Commons Library Paper tackled this issue of challenging the decision of a coroner or the outcome of an inquest.

In England & Wales, coroners are judicial office holders, who are independent and appointed by the Crown. They have substantial experience as lawyers or medical doctors – sometimes both. They investigate all deaths where it is thought that the death might not be due to natural causes, or where there needs to be an inquiry for some reason.

At present, there’s no right of appeal from an inquest but it’s sometimes possible to challenge a coroner’s decision or the outcome of an inquest. This can be done by an application under section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988, or by an application for judicial review.

It is possible to complain to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office about the coroner’s conduct. This includes misconduct such as the use of insulting, racist or sexist language, unreasonable delays in holding the inquest or replying to correspondence.

Section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988 (as amended) provides that the High Court can order an investigation into a death to be held by the same or a different coroner if it is in the interests of justice because of:

  • fraud
  • rejection of evidence
  • irregularity of proceedings
  • insufficiency of inquiry
  • or the discovery of new facts or evidence.

The Coroners Act also allows for the High Court to order an investigation if the coroner refuses or neglects to hold an inquest or investigation, which should be held.

An application to the High Court needs to be made or authorised by the Attorney General and there’s no time limit.

Judicial reviews (where there is concern about the fairness of the procedure) need to be brought within three months of the decision. This is a complex area of law and anyone wanting a judicial review would need to take legal advice.

Section 40 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 brought in a new system of appeal against some decisions and determinations. However, this section never came into effect and has now been repealed.

Two years ago, the Ministry of Justice published a Guide to Coroner Services. This provides information about the coroner investigation process, including the inquest. It also sets out the standards of service that coroners should meet and it also explains what someone can do if they feel those standards are not met.