CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Seanad Commencement Matter for Tuesday, 31 January, 2017
The need for the Minister for Justice and Equality to advise the House on when she plans on introducing a new Coroners Bill.
Opening Statement on behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality
On behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality who cannot be here today, I would like to thank Senator Conway for raising this subject which affords the opportunity to update the House of the most recent developments. I acknowledge the Senator’s active involvement in promoting reform of the coronial system.
Senator Conway, along with other members of the Justice Committee, met with officials from the Tánaiste’s Department on 23 November, 2016 to continue engagement on this matter. The officials updated the Committee on the extensive work already undertaken on the legal and medical aspects of the comprehensive review of the Coroners Bill directed by the Tánaiste.
The Tánaiste has now established a dedicated Coroner Unit in her Department. The Unit will develop policy and contribute to the review of the legislative provisions with the clear mandate to do what needs to be done to bring about reform as soon as is practicable. That Unit is operational since the beginning of January 2017 and has commenced engagement with relevant stakeholders and a review of the latest developments in coroner organisation in similar States with a common law heritage.
The critical issue is that any proposals we bring forward to the Oireachtas to transition to a modern coroner system must be coherent and cost effective. Most importantly, our new coronial law and service must meet our obligations to the people of this State and also those obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Coroners Bill 2007 was a significant attempt to bring about modernisation of both the law and practice of the coroner’s investigation and the nature and role of the office of corner itself. Responsibility would be transferred from local authorities to the Minister for Justice and Equality, with a new post of chief coroner, full time coroners and a new central Coroner Service to provide enhanced support to coroners and to liaise with bereaved families.
To operate the intensive requirements for an improved coroner death investigation services, as set out in the 2007 Bill – and allowing for developments since – we must examine and decide on the appropriate delivery system. The new Coroner Unit will have to urgently consider whether the full time model proposed in 2007 is still the optimum approach. This would end the current part time coronial service, provided by either lawyers or doctors, in jurisdictions based on county or sub-county divisions. Such an approach has already been taken in the modernised coroner services of Northern Ireland and New Zealand. Those States also operate a lawyer only coroner model.
In conclusion, while not the focus of today’s discussion, I should mention those recent proposals, to amend the law with regard to making certain deaths subject to mandatory inquest, made by Deputy Clare Daly in the other House, and to add to the range of permissible inquest verdicts made by Senator Padraig McLochlainn. Their proposals will be integrated into the review being conducted by the Coroners Unit in the Department.