§ Baroness Blood
asked Her Majesty's Government:
How many cases of death were awaiting inquest in Northern Ireland on 1 September; and what steps are being taken to reduce the backlog in such cases awaiting inquest in Northern Ireland. [HL4570]
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
Information on the number of cases awaiting inquest in Northern Ireland is not available as the decision to hold an inquest is a discretionary power exercised by the coroner. It is only when a coroner has carried out investigations into the death that he can reach a decision whether or not to hold an inquest or dispose of the case by other means.
An increase of the coronial judicial complement of one additional full-time deputy and one additional part-time coroner was made in October 2001 to address backlogs and the handling of complex inquests. Also, in order to improve the administrative support for the Coroners Service, a number of additional staff have been appointed to court offices to provide enhanced administrative support for part-time coroners. In more complex cases, counsel are appointed to assist the coroner with the presentation of evidence at inquests.
In February 2004, the Northern Ireland Court Service published for public consultation proposals for administrative redesign of the Coroners Service. These proposals are intended to modernise and improve the service to relatives of the deceased person.