Coroners (Amendment) Bill 2018 passed by Oireachtas

Author: Grainne O'Callaghan and Zoe Richardson

July 19, 2019

Current Status

The Coroners (Amendment) Bill 2018 (the “Bill”), has now passed the Oireachtas, having been passed last Wednesday, 3 July 2019. Welcoming this, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said: “This is a very important Bill which has been a priority for me personally and for the Government. It is my firm intention to seek early enactment, and provide for rapid commencement.”

The legislative process to amend coronial law in the State commenced in 2007, when the first iteration of a Bill was brought before the Seanad. The passing of this Bill signifies the end of a lengthy process and, when enacted, will introduce much needed modernisation to the coronial process, which currently operates under legislation enacted in 1962.

Key Provisions

The Bill, as passed, contains a number of key provisions that are aimed at increasing the effectiveness of the coronial process. These key provisions include the following:

Widened scope of Inquests: The Bill provides that the purpose of an inquest includes establishing the circumstances in which the death occurred, to the extent that the Coroner considers this necessary. The current legislation effectively limits the Coroner to establishing the cause of death. The status quo remains in that Coroners do not decide whose fault the death was, or whether there was a criminal offence.

Mandatory Reporting: The Bill provides for mandatory post mortem and inquest in cases including:

  • maternal death and late maternal death;
  • any death where there has been concern expressed about the medical treatment provided to the deceased; and
  • all cases of deaths occurring in a range of specified situations which constitute State custody or detention (albeit no mandatory post-mortem or inquest in these cases).

Exemptions to Mandatory Reporting: The Bill provides an exemption from mandatory inquest at the discretion of the Coroner, if, after consulting with a bereaved family, the Coroner is satisfied that the death was a natural one and there are no matters of concern requiring inquest. The Coroner must have regard to the written views of a family member of the deceased about whether the death was a natural one;

Strengthened Investigative Powers for the Coroner: The Bill gives Coroners stronger powers to summon witnesses, to direct the production of documents (including medical records) from healthcare managers, medical practitioners, nurses, midwives and paramedics and to obtain a District Court warrant to enter and inspect premises. It also introduces penalties for witnesses who fail to cooperate.

Advices from Experts: If a Coroner believes that they require or would benefit from the advice or assistance of an expert, the Bill now gives a statutory entitlement to Coroners to commission such advice.

Legal Aid: The Bill extends the scheme of legal aid for family members to cases of maternal death and late maternal death.

Referral to the High Court: Establishment of new power for Coroners to apply to the High Court in certain situations, including:

  • where there is a failure to comply with a request for records (and costs can be awarded in such instances), and
  • for directions on a point of law regarding the performance of the Coroner’s  functions.

Statutory Basis for Adjournments: Establishment of new procedures for adjournments of Inquests, in some cases where criminal proceedings are being considered in relation to the relevant death.

 Impact

The Bill, once enacted, will provide a new framework within which the Coroners Court  operates, extending its remit for inquiry, the requirement for mandatory reporting and its powers of investigation.

The Bill, as passed, may be accessed here: https://data.oireachtas.ie/ie/oireachtas/bill/2018/94/eng/ver_c/b94c18d-p-c-sent.pdf

 

 

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