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Changes proposed to Coroners Act

Changes proposed to Coroners Act

Associate Justice Minister Margaret Wilson today signalled proposed changes to the Coroners Act 1988.

Speaking at the Australasian Coroners Conference in Christchurch, she said a number of policy proposals have been developed following the review of the country’s coronial system, which began with the Law Commission’s report in 2000.

While the proposals have yet to go before Cabinet for decision, Margaret Wilson said the Conference provided an excellent opportunity for discussion and feedback from Coroners.

Justice officials are attending the conference, which runs until Saturday, to facilitate this feedback process.

The policy proposals include the appointment of a Chief Coroner and a smaller number of mostly full-time coroners.

“A Chief Coroner will help improve co-ordination within the coronial system, providing support and leadership to coroners,” Margaret Wilson said. “They would also have a public liaison and education role.”

Margaret Wilson said a smaller number of coroners would not mean those coroners would work only from the main centres.

“The connections between coroners and local communities are longstanding. I envisage the coroners who work in provincial areas will travel on a circuit. Access to justice for bereaved families requires this, as does the practical workings of the system, which involves for example local police.”

Policy proposals also provide for a greater focus on promoting consistency of practice through training, guidance, information sharing and protocols, Margaret Wilson said. Managing relationships with statutory investigatory agencies will also be a focus.
“The Law Commission began its review of the coronial system after it became aware (through its Succession Law project) of a number of concerns among Maori about aspects of coronial practice. These concerns were also felt by other communities for cultural, religious and personal reasons.

“The policy proposals therefore include measures to help in the relationships with families and to take account of spiritual and cultural needs. These concern matters such as when and how families can express views on processes such as post mortems and issues concerned with body parts. Families will also be able to appoint a representative to liaise with the Coroner.”

Margaret Wilson said because any reforms will be disruptive for current coroners, there will have to be a reasonable transition period before the introduction of a new system.

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