A new Chief Coroner for England and Wales

Well, it has only take three years, but at long last the Chief Coroner has been appointed for England and Wales and I personally wish him well in the task ahead.

Judge Peter Thornton QC says his aims are to provide quality and uniformity in the Coroner system.

He also notes that the system was ancient and well respected.

Having appeared at numerous inquests throughout England and Wales, I think I would echo the sentiment of ancient and generally, I think well respected is all accurate.

However, it is a quirk of the Coroner system that one never knows how each individual Coroner is going to run his or her own Court and treat either the bereaved family for whom I invariably act, or indeed, the Solicitors and Barristers who appear.

Like most things Judicial who we appear in front of, the vast majority are good, some are excellent, and there are those who are simply dreadful.

I suppose it is inevitable that it is the dreadful ones that seem to stick in the mind.

For obvious reasons I won't name them, but those Coroners who consistently get the name of the deceased wrong cause immense upset to the mothers, fathers, husbands or wives of the deceased when such basic errors are made.

Those of you who are reading this who have been unfortunate enough to be in a Coroner Court will know that by the very nature of the proceedings, care and sensitivity needs to be taken, particularly when referring to those who have passed away in often tragic circumstances.

The more sensitive Coroners will often speak with the bereaved family before the Court sits, with sensitive tone and touch. For example, they may invite the bereaved family to leave whilst the post mortem details are gone through.

The less sensitive ones plough on relentlessly, often ignoring the hurt which can be caused to a family who have to endure hearing about their loved one's body organ parts being read out in a pathologist report.

And then, of course, there is always the difficulty over a verdict. Trying to explain to a family that their loved one was not killed accidentally notwithstanding the Coroner's verdict of accidental death can be difficult enough for those of us who are experienced in semantics, but at the conclusion of an inquest, the differences between death by misadventure, accidental death and so on are tricky to explain. The more forward thinking Coroners now, of course, use narrative verdicts which are much more neutral in their impact on the bereaved, but nevertheless need to be framed carefully for legal purposes.

So, I wish the new Chief Coroner well. I hope the political will and political purse strings will be there to support the reforms and improvements that are there to be made.

Andrew Greenwood

Written by

Andrew Greenwood

Director & Head of Personal Injury

Andrew is a Director and Head of Personal Injury with over 30 years’ experience and has expert knowledge in serious brain, spinal and fatal injury cases. Andrew is a Deputy District Judge in the High Court and County Court, founding member and trustee of national charity SCARD (Support and Care After Road Death and...

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