Covid-19 – Chief Coroner’s Guidance on Post-Mortem Examinations during the Pandemic
Whilst the media focus remains firmly on the delivery of care in the NHS and protection of health and social care staff, the Chief Coroner’s Guidance on COVID 19 offers a sombre illustration of the range of knock on effects which the increased demand on services will have. The Guidance quotes from guidance issued by the Royal College of Pathologists in relation to the conduct of post-mortems during the pandemic; the essence of which is that deaths in individuals who had laboratory confirmed Coronavirus infection and whose death is clinically attributable to the infection are unlikely to need a post-mortem.
However, the guidance also recognises that routine coroners’ post-mortems may not be readily available during the pandemic. Deaths in individuals whose Covid-19 status was uncertain present a particular challenge. The Chief Coroner’s Guidance countenances the use of imaging, such as CT scanning as an alternative to post-mortems. That is subject to two caveats; firstly, access to scanning facilities may be problematic and secondly, Coroners will have to consider the scientific evidence for diagnostic imaging.
The Guidance acknowledges the difficulties and advises that the availability of post-mortem examinations will be a factor for coroners to consider when deciding whether to order a post-mortem. It is implicit in the guidance that cases in which a post-mortem examination is desirable and would ordinarily be ordered may have to do without. It is important to note that Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights continues to apply and is not derogable even in times of emergency. Furthermore, the United Kingdom has not filed a notification of derogation from any of the derogable rights in the Convention. It remains to be seen whether changes in practice deployed in these extraordinary circumstances will alter Coroners’ approaches to ordinary practice in the future.
This briefing is for guidance purposes only. RadcliffesLeBrasseur LLP accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken or not taken in relation to this note and recommends that appropriate legal advice be taken having regard to a client's own particular circumstances.