Justice Committee Inquiry on The Coroner Service

During 2020, the Justice Committee launched an inquiry into the examining the effectiveness and capacity of the Coroner Service. It looked at whether enough progress has been made in improving bereaved people's experience of the Coroner Service.

POhWER submitted written evidence based on our experiences of supporting people through the Coroner Service in the role of advocates.

POhWER’s Written Evidence Submission to Parliament

POhWER’s advocacy services are outcome-focused and client-led. Our advocates are trained to work with all clients to focus on identifying, recording and reviewing outcomes for each individual. We often receive advocacy cases related to the Coroner Service and questions about what rights people have within bereavement, death and dying. We note a significant gap in rights-led advocacy provision to enable individuals to challenge, complain and understand their rights as it pertains to death and dying.

There are currently no professional independent advocacy services available for individuals going through coroner investigation or inquest, and extremely limited access to Legal Aid where it is means tested. This often equates to a lack of fairness in the system.

Some local areas may have access to trained volunteers (5.8 Ministry of Justice (MoJ) Guide to Coroners Service for Bereaved People) who can sit with families and explain processes and provide emotional support, however this support is not available consistently across the UK. The high turnover of volunteers is problematic and inconsistent. A professional advocacy service would remove this unfairness, ensure regular availability, promote a consistent experience, and establish consistent quality standards. This new advocacy model would also be accountable and provide evidence of efficacy, and remove the unevenness of support provision geographically or across lived experiences.

There is significant choice of emotional support for the bereaved, however there are no free rights-led advocacy professional services other than seeking legal advice about how to navigate the processes of the coroner’s office.

Coroners are highly unlikely to offer deep expertise on human rights related to death and dying. Asking coroners to meet unrealistic and broad standards expected of them to support bereaved families with rights-related queries (e.g. regular contact with interested persons) presents unachievable predicament to manage end of life experience. Coroners may not be potentially positioned to investigate complaints made about themselves, especially in small rural communities with limited staff. The creation of an independent professional advocacy service could ensure bereaved queries and requests for information are targeted and adhering to government guidance, as with IHCAS, Advocacy under the Care Act and s.39(D) IMCA roles currently.

POhWER’s full written evidence submission on the Coroner Service to Parliament’s Justice Committee can be found here.