An Oireachtas committee report calling for an overhaul of the coroner system has been submitted to the Department of Justice’s consultation on the coroner’s service.
The Report on an Examination of the Operation of the Coroner’s Services has been launched by the Oireachtas Justice Committee in recent days and recommends that an office of the Chief Coroner and an office of the Deputy Coroner be established “to steer leadership of the service”.
It also recommends that a Central Coroner Service be established as a new statutory agency, “to uphold the fundamental principles of the Coroner’s Service and assist with administrative and organisational duties”.
The committee has also proposed that an Inspectorate should be appointed to monitor consistency in practice across all coronial districts as currently there is no centralised system in place.
The launch comes as a public consultation is underway by the Department of Justice to examine what improvements that can be made to the coronial system.
Committee chairman James Lawless said: “While recognising that previous efforts to reform areas of the Coroner’s Service had resulted in some legislative reforms being implemented, including the passing of the Coroners (Amendment) Act 2019, the committee recognised that other recommendations and proposed legislative reforms have not yet been implemented.”
“Among the key areas identified include the structure and resourcing of the Coroner’s Service; the selection of a jury for a coroner’s inquest; and the follow-up and implementation of recommendations stemming from a coroner’s inquest.”
He added: “While it is essential that the service is equipped to ensure that coroners can carry out their functions effectively, it is equally important that families which take part in an inquest process feel that they are informed, supported and treated with compassion throughout this process.”
He said a copy of the report has now been submitted to the Department of Justice for its consultation on the coronial system.
He added that the system must be “centred around the bereaved” to ensure that it works to answer the questions of loved ones about the circumstances of a person’s death.
Barrister Doireann O’Mahony believes the decision by the committee to highlight the need for implementation of recommendations made at an inquest is a key element of the report. Presently, such recommendations are not legally binding.
She said: “I have always believed that the recommendations made at inquests are an under-utilised resource for learning important lessons about preventable deaths, and so I am delighted to see this having been addressed by the committee in its report.
It has recommended a structured and formalized process for the implementation of coroner and jury recommendations, and that a central database be established for all such recommendations. These have the potential to really effect meaningful change.
She added: “Knowing that any recommendation made at an inquest into the death of a loved one will be taken seriously and not forgotten about once proceedings are over should provide some comfort to grieving families.”
The Department of Justice says its consultation “will be vital in identifying how the Coroner Service will operate in the future”.
The closing date for submissions is Friday, 19 January, 2024, at 5pm. The consultation can be accessed at gov.ie – Coroner Reform Consultation.