HC Deb 20 July 1981 vol 9 cc18-9
44. Mr. Meacher

asked the Attorney-General when the Lord Chancellor last used his powers to dismiss a coroner.

The Attorney-General (Sir Michael Havers)

In March 1944.

Mr. Meacher

Does not that show that the supervision of coroners is somewhat lax? Is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the manner in which coroners conducted certain recent highly politically sensitive inquests, such as those into the killing of Blair Peach, the Iranian Embassy affair and, above all, the New Cross-Deptford fire? Is not it right that this small minority of highly politically charged cases, where coroners clearly are out of their depth, should be heard before a High Court judge and that all the relevant evidence, including the police investigators' report, should be made available to both sides and not, as at present, be confined to one side?

The Attorney-General

The fact that no coroner has been removed since 1944 does not indicate that the system is lax. It indicates that, by and large, coroners do their job very well.

As for the remainder of the hon. Gentleman's question, I have read with interest his two questions to the Home Office on 9 July, and I have nothing to add.

Mr. Lawrence

Does not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that public confidence in the coroner system is essential and that, although there is generally considerable public confidence in 90 per cent. of coroners' cases, there is a narrow area of recent cases that have shown some public disquiet? Is not it time that more attention was given to the legal qualifications of coroners and that an attempt was made to divorce some of the activities of the police from the organisation of coroners' courts, which exists in cases where police action is in dispute? Generally, is not it time for a closer look at the Brodrick recommendations that were made nearly 10 years ago, very few of which have been implemented?

The Attorney-General

As my hon. and learned Friend will know, the Broderick report involves considerable manpower and financial problems. I read with interest the suggestions made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Sir W. Clegg) on Second Reading of the Supreme Court Bill. Like everything else to do with coroners, this is a matter that is always kept under review.

Mr. Archer

May I press Mr. Attorney a little further? Does he accept that the major purpose of the coroner system is to ensure that matters of public concern are fully ventilated? Does he accept, further, that some cases these days perhaps arouse greater public attention and occasion greater public anxiety than in 1971 when the Broderick inquiry reported? Since some cases are bound to be conducted in a highly emotive atmosphere, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that someone should have power to order that an inquiry in a specific case should be made before a High Court judge and that there should be a wider range of options about the possible findings?

The Attorney-General

With respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the real function of the coroner's jury is not to deal with a matter of public interest. It is the more limited one of inquiring into the cause of death and not to attribute blame. But, as I said to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), any suggestion for improving the system of coroners' courts will always be considered. If there are genuine complaints about it, we must put them right.

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