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New coroners appointed

Hon Dr Michael Cullen

6 June 2007 / Media Statement

New coroners appointed

Thirteen new coroners have been appointed under the new Coroners Act 2006, Attorney-General Michael Cullen announced today. The new coroners join Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean appointed in December last year.

The appointees (and where they will be based) are:

- Brandt Shortland (Whangarei)
- Katharine Greig (Auckland)
- Murray Jamieson (Auckland)
- Peter Ryan (Hamilton)
- Gordon Matenga (Hamilton)
- Wallace Bain (Rotorua)
- Christopher Devonport (Hastings)
- Carla na Nagara (Palmerston North)
- Tim Scott (Palmerston North)
- Ian Smith (Wellington)
- Richard McElrea (Christchurch)
- Sue Johnson (Christchurch)
- David Crerar (Dunedin)

A third coroner to be based in Auckland will be appointed at a later date.

The Coroners Act 2006 repeals and replaces the Coroners Act 1988. It established the office of Chief Coroner to be supported by a body of up to 20 legally qualified full-time coroners. The 14 coroners will replace the current 55 part-time coroners.

"The new Act aims to enhance public confidence in the integrity and independence of the coronial system," said Dr Cullen. "It also recognises the need to address the distinct spiritual and cultural needs of Maori and other ethnic or religious groups as far as possible, in keeping with the purpose and function of the coronial regime."

The new coroners will be sworn in over the next fortnight and will take office when the new coronial system comes into force on 1 July. Existing coroners will continue in office until they have completed any outstanding work.

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* The old coronial regime was considered haphazard, patchy, unsystematic, and inadequate. Coroners were mainly working part-time, often in isolation, and with limited formal administrative support. Appointment processes were considered inadequate, and there were no training programmes for coroners. There was a perception that the coronial system did not take enough account of cultural beliefs and values, especially those of Māori. There were also reports that some coronial practices had been insensitive to the needs of families, in relation to the treatment of the deceased, and the removal and retention of body parts.

* The Coroners Act 2006 goes a long way to address these concerns by, firstly, establishing the office of the chief coroner to provide leadership and coordination; secondly, moving to a smaller number of mostly full-time legally qualified coroners; thirdly, ensuring families are notified of significant steps in the coronial process; fourthly, introducing a specific regime for attention and release of body parts and body samples; and, fifthly, enhancing inquiry and inquest processes.

* Families will particularly benefit from these reforms. Among other things the Act broadens the definition of family to take into account modern family arrangements and cultural relationships, allows families to appoint a representative to liaise with a coroner, requires the coroner to perform the duties without delay, requires the coroner to notify families at significant stages of the coronial process, allows families to review and touch the body of a deceased person with a coroner’s authorisation, and gives families the right to object to a post-mortem examination if the death does not appear to be suspicious.

* Another issue is the retention of body parts and body samples. The Coroners Act 2006 is a completely new regime in this area. The Coroners Act 2006 will ensure that body parts and body samples can be taken only for the purposes of the post mortem, and that families are notified of the proposed retention, and can request the return of the parts and samples. It also restricts how retained parts and samples can be used. These new provisions balance the value of retaining tissues for later examination, against the family’s desire to have the tissue returned for cultural, spiritual, and other reasons.

* Coroners will continue to work in provincial areas as well as the main centres, and working full-time means coroners can spend time building relationships with different groups in the local community.



Judge MacLean was a partner in three Christchurch law practices between 1972 and 1993. Prior to his appointment as a District Court judge, Judge MacLean served as the coroner for Christchurch from 1978 to 1993. He has continued to carry out inquests since his judicial appointment, usually for complex matters or where a second inquest has been directed, or where another coroner has a conflict of interest. He also assisted in the preparation of the Coroners’ Manual 1988 and provided consultative information to the Chief Judge regarding the new Coroners Act.


Mr Shortland identifies as Maori with affiliations to a number of North Island iwi, including Ngā Puhi. He is currently a partner in a legal firm in Hamilton and is particularly interested in youth and family law. Mr Shortland also has a social science degree and is involved in a number of Maori and Pakeha community organisations and has had some exposure to Pacific Islands culture.


Ms Greig is a qualified lawyer and a registered general and obstetric nurse. She is currently a panel member and executive officer for the Confidential Forum for Former In-Patients of Psychiatric Hospitals. Previous roles include Assistant Health and Disability Commissioner and Chief Legal Advisor with the Health and Disability Commission.


Dr Jamieson is currently a full-time current coroner and has advanced degrees in medicine, science and law, including a DPhil from Oxford, and a postgraduate diploma in obstetrics. Dr Jamieson also speaks Te Reo Maori, has connections with various Maori communities and has an appreciation of the multicultural make-up of the population of Auckland and the implications of this for the role of coroner.


Mr Ryan is a very well regarded current coroner, with 20 years legal experience and an early professional background as a high school teacher. He has some experience in dealing with the media and a good appreciation of the issues this raises for a coroner. He has been involved in education of other coroners and associated professionals.


Mr Matenga is a current coroner who identifies as Ngati Kahungunu, Rongomaiwahine, Ngati Porou and Ngai Tahu. Mr Matenga is currently a partner in a private legal firm and his professional activities include presenting and publishing to promote understanding of issues dealt with by coroners and perspectives of Maori and young people.


Dr Bain is a highly regarded current coroner who has been closely involved in the development of the new legislation. He has strong community links, including with local Maori, and from a period as Mayor of Waitomo. He has considerable public relations and media experience. Dr Bain has an LLB (Hons) 1st class, is a qualified pharmacist, and has a PhD in medico-pharmacy law.


Mr Devonport has worked in private legal practice on the East Coast of the North Island for 30 years. He has an LLB (Hons) and is well connected in his community, having served on the committees of various service and sporting clubs, philanthropic trusts and school boards.


Ms na Nagara has a background in law and social policy, having worked for 7 years in private legal practice and as an advisor in Te Puni Kōkiri and the Ministry of Justice Treaty of Waitangi Policy Unit. She has a first class honours degree in Maori studies and sociology, as well as an LLB, and undertook research into the role of coroner as part of her studies. Ms na Nagara identifies as being from a Thai/European or Pākehā background.


Mr Scott is a well-regarded current coroner who identifies as Ngai Tahu. He has worked in private legal practice and undertaken roles as a Disputes Adjudicator and as an Adjudicator for the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service. Mr Scott has effectively handled some high profile cases as coroner and has a sound appreciation of changes provided for in the Coroners Act 2006.


Mr Smith is a high-profile current coroner with a background in civil engineering as well as law. He has worked in private legal practice and was appointed a Disputes Tribunal referee in 1989. Mr Smith is very articulate and passionate about the role of coroner.


Mr McElrea is a very experienced current coroner and a partner in a large private legal practice. He has a very thorough understanding of the requirements of the role of coroner, including an understanding of other cultures, and personal commitment to working effectively with them.


Ms Johnson has a LLB (Hons) 1st class from the University of Canterbury and is a United Kingdom registered nurse. She is currently employed as a legal advisor to the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, acting as defence counsel in claims relating to professional practice and regularly representing health professionals in inquest hearings. Ms Johnson has lectured and published texts on medico-legal matters.


Mr Crerar is a current coroner who has held his warrant for more than 25 years and is well respected in both Australia and New Zealand for his work. He was involved in the development of the new legislation and has been involved in the promotion of coroner education and training as Secretary of the Coroners Council. Mr Crerar is currently a partner in private legal practice. Mr Crerar has a varied background, including expertise in mountain safety and disaster management.

The following table lists the areas covered by each coroner and the estimated workload based on five years of data recorded by Police and the Ministry of Justice.

Where additional support is required – for example when a coroner has a particularly high caseload, or to cover a vacation or illness – then either a coroner from another region, the Chief Coroner, or a relief coroner will be able to provide support.

Base / Coverage / Estimated Workload / No. of Coroners
Whangarei / Dargaville, Kaikohe, Kerikeri, Mangonui, Whangarei / 0.63 / 1
Auckland / Auckland, Henderson, Manukau, Papakura, Pukekohe, Takapuna / 2.71 / 3
Hamilton / Cambridge, Hamilton, Huntly, Matamata, Morrinsville/Te Aroha, Paeroa, Te Awamutu, Te Kuiti, Thames, Waihi / 1.45 / 2
Rotorua / Rotorua, Taupo, Tauranga, Tokoroa, Whakatane / 1.21 / 1
Hastings / Gisborne, Hastings, Napier, Ruatoria, Waipukurau, Wairoa / 0.61 / 1
Palmerston North / Dannevirke, Hawera, Levin, Marton, New Plymouth, Ohakune, Palmerston North, Taihape, Taumarunui, Wanganui, Waverley / 1.42 / 2
Wellington / Kapiti, Lower Hutt, Masterton, Porirua, Upper Hutt, Wellington / 1.18 / 1 + Chief Coroner
Christchurch / Ashburton, Christchurch, Rangiora, Timaru, Waimate, Blenheim, Greymouth, Hokitika, Kaikoura, Motueka, Nelson, Westport / 1.63 / 2
Dunedin / Balclutha, Cromwell, Dunedin, Invercargill, Oamaru, Queenstown, Te Anau / 1.14 / 1
After hours support / / 0.21 /

© Scoop Media

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