Coronial powers

August 6th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

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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12 Responses to “Coronial powers”

  1. GPT1 (2,121 comments) says:

    What about recommendations and responses being listed on a website (if this isn’t done already)? If a recommendation appears to be sensible and is without response that would bring pressure to bear.

    Some of the recommendations are head scratchingly odd.

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  2. metcalph (1,430 comments) says:

    I’m not certain that a review is needed so soon. Since the 2008 revamp which caused the coroners to finally start closing cases that have been open since the 1920s, I think it too early for another change.

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  3. Graeme Edgeler (3,289 comments) says:

    +1 GPT1

    A searchable list of recommendations would be an excellent place to start.

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  4. scrubone (3,099 comments) says:

    Some of the recent recommendations have done considerable damage to the office. They need to get their act together and stop making recommendations that take into account only one narrow view.

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  5. Griff (7,675 comments) says:

    warning Encroachment of NANNY SATE
    Seatbelts on farm bikes they are kidding most bad injures are from roll over… next roll bars then…. licensing…. then banning

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  6. peterwn (3,271 comments) says:

    Trouble is, years ago, the government of the day pulled some Coroner’s teeth in the wake of upset rellies. Mr Copeland, former Coroner in Auckland did not suffer deceased fools gladly and called a spade a spade – for example with a drink-drive ending with the driver’s death.

    It would not be appropriate for a coroner’s recommendation to be binding on anybody. Perhaps the best compromise might be that such recommendations be referred to the responsible Minister who would be obliged to table a response in the House within a reasonable time.

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  7. tvb (4,415 comments) says:

    Coroners are about establishing the facts, not attributing blame, though the two are often intertwined. Recommendations for action are more problematic. Coroners are not necessarily best placed to make policy recommendations. But I do believe relevant agencies should provide a response to the findings of a coroners hearing if invited by the Coroner to do so.

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  8. Fost (102 comments) says:

    I would like the review to go with DPF’s suggestion – not all recommendations for each Coroner, but ones from the Chief Coroner have to be responded to by the appropriate Minister(s). Then add an additional role to the Chief Coroner, to analysis the data from all the other Coroner’s to look for and make on single overall recommendation from the trends – as these will be less frequent, will be backed by good deal of data and have already filtered out the ‘way out there’ ones – they will have both more weight and harder to ignore as ‘just another Coroner making a silly recommendation, just like…’ for anything you disagree with personally.

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  9. Pauleastbay (5,035 comments) says:

    The Role of the Coroner

    A coroner is appointed by the Governor-General under the Coroners Act 2006 to investigate certain types of death. A coroner is a warranted judicial officer, and while they have a legal background, they undertake an inquisitorial process to discover what happened rather than hold a trial to apportion blame.

    It is the coroner’s role to:
    receive notification of a death from the Police;
    decide whether to direct a post-mortem;
    authorise the release of the deceased;
    establish that a person has died, their identity, when and where the person died, the causes of death, and the circumstances of death; and
    give members and representatives of the immediate family notification of matters required by law.

    And that is all that is required. Most Coronial recommendations are just opinions with nothing to sibstantiate why that opinion was issued.

    It is just creating another layer of beuarocrats(sic) – imagine- you’ll have 28 days to repond initailly and then there will be a time period for an investigation and then a report will be created and perused and then and then and then .. but the dude will still be dead and there will be if anyone cares to look already ample legislation on the books to cover any fault in the death.

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  10. KH (695 comments) says:

    I really like the idea that coroners can say what they like. It adds a useful wild card to our ponderous systems that miss the point so often. For example look no further than Kahui.
    However it also means we get some daft comments. Maybe we just have to sigh and bear those.

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  11. nasska (11,468 comments) says:

    I also like the idea that coroners can say what they like….where I part company is when people listen to them. For the most part coroners live in a world where ideals reign, human error is not permitted & anyone without the gift of second sight needs “re- education” or worse.

    They speak from a great height of things they have no practical experience of & stamp their feet regularly when us lesser mortals fail to heed their dire warnings. Left unchecked, or worse encouraged, their wafflings will complete the job of strangling the country with red tape, OSH rules & inspectors.

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  12. tristanb (1,127 comments) says:

    They speak from a great height of things they have no practical experience of & stamp their feet regularly when us lesser mortals fail to heed their dire warnings. Left unchecked, or worse encouraged, their wafflings will complete the job of strangling the country with red tape, OSH rules & inspectors.

    Well said.

    Coroners reports are often just excuses for a silly old lawyer to rant about “the way things should be”. They also smack of Captain Hindsight.

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