The Chief Coroner has a statutory duty to report to the Lord Chancellor on investigations lasting more than 12 months beginning with the day on which the coroner was made aware that the person’s body was within the coroner area (section 16 Coroners and Justice Act 2009 [“CJA”]). The Chief Coroner is required by s18 of the CJA to write an annual report for the Lord Chancellor, in which he must include the number of cases over 12 months.
The fourth Annual Report covering 2016-2017 was published on 30 November 2017 and it appears on the Chief Coroner’s website. See in particular paragraphs 31-39 and Annex C.
Coroners currently do not give standardised reasons for delay in completing an investigation. For the purposes of the table the reasons for delay are distilled into five categories, as follows.
- Investigation or prosecution by external authority – There are certain circumstances in which the coroner is either required to, or it is advisable, that he suspends or adjourns an investigation, e.g. he is required to do so when there is a police investigation into a homicide offence (s11 and Schedule 1 CJA). The coroner also has a general power to suspend an investigation under paragraph 5 of Schedule 1 CJA.
- Current criminal proceedings in the Crown Court – There are a small minority of deaths which result in criminal proceedings in which case the inquest will be adjourned until at least the outcome of the Crown Court proceedings.
- Death abroad – For obvious reasons, inquiries into a death abroad can be very lengthy. Coroners must rely on information being forthcoming from foreign jurisdictions.
- Preparation for inquest – The majority of cases fall into this category. Preparation for an inquest is work which is done in the normal course of events during an investigation or inquest.
- Complex case – There are some deaths which involve complex legal issues, or have difficult medical issues which involve instructing specialist witnesses which sometimes means that there are unavoidable delays in completing the inquest.