Chief Coroner removes entitlement to conduct remote hearings and introduces power to hold inquests in writing15/07/22
The Chief Coroner has published new guidance in respect of remote hearings (Guidance no. 42) and inquests in writing and rule 23 evidence (Guidance no. 29). There is now no entitlement for observers or participants to attend hearings remotely. Where individuals wish to attend remotely, an application must first be made to the Coroner.
Coroners may now hold inquests in writing in straight forward and non-contentious cases where holding a hearing is not in the public interest.
We explore the changes and how they will impact your own proceedings in this insight.
Who can attend remote hearings according to the new guidance no. 42?
Observers from the public
Remote observation of proceedings by the public will be allowed to continue. However, there is no right to observe a hearing remotely and individuals will have to apply to the Coroner for permission. It is unlikely that interested persons will be consulted on remote observation applications.
It remains lawful for witnesses, interested persons and legal representatives to attend hearings remotely. Participants who wish to attend remotely are required to make an application to the Coroner. Where there is a request for remote participant attendance, the other interested persons may make representations.
Witnesses should only be permitted to attend hearings remotely where it would improve the quality of the evidence or allow the hearing to proceed more expediently and where it will not impede the questioning of that witness.
The current law requires that the Coroner and the Jury must attend Court in person. The Chief Coroner has indicated that new rules will be introduced to allow for remote attendance by Coroners and juries, likely only in exceptional circumstances.
Under which circumstances can Coroners conduct inquests in writing and admit written evidence under rule 23 evidence (Guidance no. 29)?
Coroners have previously conducted documentary inquests by admitting written evidence under Rule 23 during an inquest hearing in a court room. From 28 June 2022, in straightforward and uncontentious cases, Coroners are now able to hold an inquest in writing, without a hearing. Examples of cases where an inquest in writing may be appropriate are:
- Industrial disease cases with an in-life diagnosis and clear work history
- Straightforward drugs deaths with no concerns regarding suicide or the role of addiction services/healthcare
- Cases where the medical cause of death is not ascertained but there is no reason to suspect an unnatural cause or a death in state detention and
- Suicides in the community where the events are clear and there are no concerns in respect of actions of third parties.
For an inquest in writing to take place, Coroners should invite representations from interested persons and have no-one submit that there are reasonable grounds for a hearing. Coroners will need to consider that there is no real prospect of disagreement in respect of the findings of the inquest and that conducting a hearing would not be in the public interest.
To satisfy the requirement for open justice, information about the inquest in writing should be published in advance in the same way as for inquest hearings, although no place, date or time need to be provided.
Capsticks’ view on what the changes mean in practice
The pandemic forced many Coroners to hold inquests and pre-inquest review hearings remotely. This guidance now makes it clear that remote attendance at hearings by observers, and perhaps more importantly participants, will not be allowed purely for the convenience of the participant if it will not improve the quality of the evidence or expedite the hearing.
There is a real risk that the requirement for participants to attend hearings in person will increase the burden on already extremely busy healthcare professionals. However, where remote participant attendance would enable hearings to be listed more promptly, Coroners may be persuaded that this would be in the interests of justice and expediency.
In light of the significant backlog of cases within the Coronial system, the ability for Coroners to deal with straightforward cases in writing is a positive development. An inquest in writing can avoid the stress of a hearing for the family and reduce stress and inconvenience caused to witnesses who may have previously been required to give oral evidence in cases where their statements were detailed and uncontentious.
How Capsticks can help
Capsticks is a go-to advisor for healthcare and public sector organisations facing inquests. We work on hundreds of inquests per year, including the most high-profile and sensitive cases. Our specialists can also support you on public inquiries and judicial reviews in both healthcare and justice settings.
If you would like to discuss the implications of this guidance further, or any other related cases or issues, please contact Georgia Ford, Naomi McMaster, Amy Holden and Lucy Williams.