Chief Coroner’s new guidance on pre-inquest review hearings
On 18 January 2016 the Chief Coroner HHJ Peter Thornton QC published guidance to coroners on pre-inquest review (PIR) hearings.
Since the introduction of the Coroners (Inquests) Rules 2013, the status of PIRs has been formalised within the overall investigative process undertaken by a coroner, which often culminates with an inquest.
PIRs are crucial case management hearings, particularly in more complex cases, as they serve to establish matters such as the issues, scope and witnesses in an investigation, which form the parameters of the subsequent inquest. The new guidance on PIRs is not radical, rather it sets out best practice which coroners are expected to adopt to ensure the most productive and efficient PIRs and investigations. It focuses on the three core aspects of a PIR:
- Agenda: Agendas should be circulated at least 14 days in advance of the PIR. The guidance sets out the subjects to be covered in an agenda and suggests that an agenda may contain a coroner’s preliminary view on a given point (clearly expressed as such and subject to representations).
- The hearing: The PIR is a public hearing and should follow the agenda circulated in advance. No evidence should be given and no witness should be asked or required to attend.
- Rulings: A ruling on any point required should be given at the hearing. If more careful consideration is required, the coroner can provide a written ruling to interested persons within seven days. Rulings on contested issues should be accompanied by brief reasons. All later rulings should be set out in writing for clarity and to serve as a reminder to the coroner.
Recent experience shows that even since this guidance was published, practice still varies between coroners as to the extent to which agendas are provided in advance of PIRs and the manner in which they are conducted. Nonetheless, it is hoped the guidance will promote consistency in approach. The more clarity and structure there is in advance of and during a PIR, the more productive the PIR is likely to be and the more time and cost efficient the investigation and any eventual inquest will be for coroner and client alike. It is therefore a helpful addition to the Chief Coroner’s existing guidance.
The Chief Coroner’s guidance on PIRs is accessible by clicking here.
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This briefing is for guidance purposes only. RadcliffesLeBrasseur 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.