HM Senior Coroner Inner North London: draft protocol for prioritising deaths

HM Senior Coroner Inner North London, Mary Hassell, has issued a draft protocol for the order in which deaths reported to her will be considered. The draft is in response to the judgment of the Divisional Court in R (Adath Yisroel Burial Society & Anor) v HM Senior Coroner for Inner North London [2018] EWHC 969 and the Chief Coroner’s Guidance No. 28: Report of death to the Coroner – decision making and expedited decisions.

The draft is part of a ten-stage consultation process that began with views from members of the public, both in writing and at a public meeting on 5 July 2018. The Senior Coroner listened carefully to those views, then produced a first draft of a new protocol. The draft protocol has subsequently been commented upon by the Chief Coroner for England & Wales and redrafted in the light of those comments.

The operative part of the draft protocol is as follows:

“4. Deaths reported to the office of HMC for Inner North London will be considered by the sitting coroner (either the Senior Coroner for Inner North London or one of the Assistant Coroners for Inner North London) for prioritisation of the order in which they should be prepared by coroner’s officers for substantive consideration by the coroner.

5. As early as possible in each working day, the sitting coroner will triage reports of death (these having arrived overnight/that morning or having been left over from the previous day). The sitting coroner will then instruct the coroner’s officers about the order in which they should prepare the reports.

6. However, pending coroner triage, coroner’s officers will start preparations, so as to avoid any delay because the sitting coroner is temporarily engaged on other tasks.

7. If the number of reports of death is the same as or fewer than the number of coroner’s officers available and able to prepare the reports for coroner consideration, then coroner prioritisation will not usually be necessary. Officers will be able to take one report each and all reports will be progressed as quickly as practicable. However, if the number of reports of death is greater than the number of coroner’s officers, then coroner prioritisation will be necessary.

8. The speed with which the coroner’s officers and the sitting coroner will be able to deal with reports of death will depend upon the operational demands on the office and the resources available at that particular time.

9. If, during the day, further reports of death are received, these will be brought to the attention of the sitting coroner as soon as is practicable. The speed with which the sitting coroner will make further triage decisions during the day will depend on what other tasks s/he is carrying out.

10. When considering the order of prioritisation, the sitting coroner will take all known factors into account. Such consideration may include, but will not necessarily be limited to the following:

  • family wishes expressed direct to the coroner’s officer or via any other, for example the reporting doctor, or faith or community representative;
  • particular characteristics known about the deceased, for example if the deceased is a child, or if they are of a religion or culture where observers commonly seek early funeral;
  • particular characteristics known about the family and friends, for example if they are resident abroad and with limited time in the UK;
  • particular characteristics known about the death, for example having occurred in state custody;
  • other particular characteristics, for example if there are health and safety requirements;
  • length of time it is likely to take an officer to make the necessary enquiries and to prepare the report for coroner consideration;
  • when death occurred and when it was reported to the coroner’s office.”

The draft protocol is open for consultation until 1 August. Comments should be sent to St Pancras Coroner’s Court, Camley Street, London N1C 4PP.

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