23 Med. Sci. & L. 1 (1983)

handle is hein.journals/mdsclw23 and id is 1 raw text is: 

Med. Sci. Law (1983) Vol. 23, No. 1 Printed in Great Britain


Editorial
The guest editorial in this issue is by Dr D. R. Chambers, HM Coroner for Inner North London
and a member   of the Council of the Coroners' Society of England and Wales


As   the new  year opens  many   coroners will
not  only think  of it as 1983 but as  12 AB;
that number   of years having elapsed since the
Brodrick  report appeared in November  1971. It
is a long while ago and I do not imagine that I
am  alone among  coroners who view the judicial
tamperings  and legislative tinkerings during this
period as failing to provide a proper framework
for the workings of an efficient coroners' system.
What   is the present law and practice falls far
short of the aims of the committee which hoped
that  legislation '... to redefine the coroner's
powers   and responsibilities and to give him
much  greater discretion to choose the form of his
enquiry  should not be long delayed.' A  point
made  also in the report of the Royal College of
Physicians which  appeared towards the end  of
last year.
   The Brodrick committee,  as will be recalled,
 ranged widely over the whole field ofpresent day
 coroner's practice and the report contained 114
 recommendations;  a small minority have been
 implemented.  Despite this active intervention
 can it not be said still that the criticisms of the
 system in paragraphs 11.41 'The law is flexible
 but only because  it is archaic and exiguous'
 and 13.06 'It is archaic, unwieldly and almost
 incomprehensible' are still in substance as valid
 now as when they appeared.
 Few   informed  critics of the present situation
 can now doubt that the need is for a comprehen-
 sive unifying statute, neither consolidating the
 archaic as did the Act  of 1887  nor  merely
 amending it as in 1926. It will not be easy to
 draft although a close reading of recent judg-
 ments will give hints about the more obvious
 pitfalls to avoid. Such a statute must include
 sections on the appointment of coroners, their
 qualifications and training. Something more
 than being of 5 years standing in the profession
 of lawyer or  doctor is obviously  necessary.
 Is there now not a need  for appointments to
 be made   centrally but  with  local advice?
What  about a career structure? What Brodrick


regarded  as 'Supporting services' need to be
redefined and provided  in an unified manner.
Perhaps  the only virtue in the delay in imple-
menting  the report's recommendations  is that
serving police officers acting as coroners' officers
have been seen to have distinct advantages-not
least of which is the fact that they remain on
duty  when  other public servants do not. The
problem  of the coroner's proper accommodation
must  be  tackled; a few, mainly  whole-time
coroners  have  good  office facilities and a
court they can call their own but many do not.
Mortuaries are a similar issue.
  But the main  issue is what the coroner's true
function is to be. It is spelled out in the opening
chapter of the report (Para. I1) and it is a state-
ment  which could well be studied anew by the
legislature and critics alike. 'In our view, the
main  aim of public policy in all the fields which
we  have reviewed should be to ensure that the
cause of every death is determined and recorded
as accurately as possible. The many different ob-
jectives served by the present law ... are all
more  likely to be achieved within a framework
of law and administration which is designed with
this purpose in view.'
  This may  or may not be an election year. The
calls on parliamentary time in the present ses-
sion suggest to me at least that legislation to deal
with the problems I have described is not likely
to have high priority. Would any new  govern-
ment  have more  time for the coroners and the
sections of the public concerned by their activi-
ties than past administrations? There are few
votes in the dead however politically motivated
some  outcries over particular classes of death
may  be. Yet the problems will not go away and
only a well thought out piece of legislation can
be expected to start to solve them. Nor is such
a statute the end of the matter for if it is to
be useful at all its implementation is likely to
require reorganization and expenditure. Both
may  prove to be painful but salutary.


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