Coronial powers

Stuff reports:

Giving coroners’ recommendations “more teeth” is a necessary change, the chief says.

A review of the coronial system and the 2006 Coroners Act was announced yesterday by Courts Minister Chester Borrows.

It will be led by the Justice Ministry and will consider the role coroners have in making recommendations, as well as whether agencies should be required to formally respond to those recommendations. …

Chief coroner Judge Neil MacLean said it was important that agencies responded to coroners’ recommendations, whether it was to agree, disagree or state there was no money to make the changes.

“I’ve made no secret of it with the ministry and relevant ministers that I’m interested in seeing if we might follow the Victorian model and get a little more teeth to recommendations.”

At present, coronial services are provided by the chief coroner, 15 coroners and support staff . For the year ending June 30, coroners took jurisdiction of 3320 cases as well as providing advice on a further 2633.

I’m unsure about whether making it mandatory for agencies to respond is a good idea. Of course all recommendations should ideally be considered, but a formal response to 3,320 cases a year (not sure how many involves recs) could involve a lot of bureaucracy.

But even putting the number aside, a related issue is the quality of the recommendations. Each coroner is independent and can recommend anything. The job of a coroner is to focus on reducing deaths, but not on getting the balance of risk right, and this means some recommendations are impractical or worse. As an example, the Herald reports:

A coroner has recommended that a licence should be needed to hire nail guns – a move labelled an overreaction by DIYers.

And many recall the seat belts for quad bikes recommendation. Do we need a government department to really look into the pros and cons of needing a licence to hire a nail gun? I’m unconvinced.

What could be a partial solution is to have recommendations go to the Office of the Chief Coroner, and ones that are endorsed by him or her, then need a response?


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