25/07/2013 Coroner's court overhaul begins in England and Wales

Most inquests in England and Wales will be completed within six months under a new code of standards for coroners which has come into effect.

Justice minister Helen Grant said: "I want to see all coroners delivering the same efficient service across the board, and we have put these changes in law so people can be assured inquests are being conducted quickly, with adequate care and the right support available for those who lose loved ones."

I read this this morning on the BBC news website. My immediate thoughts were 'Oh no!' The reason why? The majority of families I have come into contact with in the last two years either, had to wait a long time for their inquest, some as long as 3 years, and some only a year. I know very few who had an inquest within 6 months. But, what I know is that those that waited 3 years, on the whole, are satisfied with the inquiry that occured, the facts that were uncovered, and in the most, the verdict. Many of those families have said, in hindsight, the wait was a blessing in disguise, as it allowed the family to uncover so much more and make the coroner aware of it before the inquest.
Of those who had faster inquests, there is a much higher degree of dissatisfaction. Huge frustration comes when new information and facts are uncovered after the inquest process and it dawns on the family just how little was covered by the inquiry. In many cases there is a feeling the verdict should have been different. In some cases, it becomes clear even the medical cause of death found was incorrect!

These are inquests which took over a year to materialise. What would have happened if they had occured within 6 months? I am concerned, deeply, that identifying error factors in contributing to child deaths will be diminished if the coroners court focuses on efficiency. Having seen so much about the danger of targets within the NHS recently, I have a fear that hitting targets for inquest turnarounds could affect the quality of the inquiry.

Don't get me wrong, the pain and frustration of waiting for the inquest is enormous. Many families I am sure, at the beginning, would welcome a quick process. But I don't want to see the numbers dissatisfied with how the inquest went growing, because I know, from experience, how utterly torturous it is to have an inquest which reaches the wrong conclusions, and what an extremely difficult road it is to ask anyone to have another look after that piece of paper is signed.

Joanne Hughes
Mothers Instinct