On 19th January 2024, the Council of The Bar of Ireland submitted its views on the reform of the Coroner Service to the Department of Justice.
It is intended that proposals on a renewed Coroner system, including a proposed plan as to how this will be achieved, will be brought to Government later this year.
Scope of Submission
The Department of Justice’s public consultation on the reform of the Coroners Service reform focuses on four broad areas including: Structure of the Coroners Service, Pathology and related Services, Reported Deaths, and Inquests. Members of The Bar of Ireland represent both the State and bereaved family members on a regular basis and draw on their experiences and observations from the Coroners Court. Therefore, the Council are in a position to offer practical insight and expertise to the Department of Justice and contribute primarily to the area of Inquests.
Bar Council Recommendations
1) The Provision of Legal Aid
The Council has held long standing recognition that legal aid is an essential component of ensuring a person’s constitutional rights are vindicated and all legal needs met. Therefore, the Council advocates for the removal of financial qualifications for legal aid in the Coroners Court and eliminating compulsory contributions for those who qualify. Receiving legal advice and representation through legal aid is crucial for bereaved families to understand the coroner’s role and engage effectively in the process.
The Council highlights the importance of equal representation, based on five principles established by the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union, including:
- The significance of what is at stake for the applicant
- The applicant’s vulnerability
- The emotional involvement of an applicant
- The complexity of law or procedure
- The need for expert evidence and examination of witnesses
2) The Empanelment of a Jury
The Council recommends applying the provisions of the Juries Act 1976 to the Coroners Court to ensure a representative jury selection process. This approach will enhance credibility, accountability, and consistency across the State. The Council also suggests exploring alternative jury selection methods, like those used in the Stardust Inquiry, to address practical issues in jury recruitment.
3) Continued Education and Training for Coroners
To maintain the excellence of the Coroner Service, the Council recommends mandatory training for newly appointed coroners and ongoing education for serving coroners. This approach will ensure consistent service delivery and decision-making across the State. Further, it is the Council’s recommendation that the Department should be responsible for the content and the funding of these training and education programs.
The Council welcomes the review of the Coroners Service and appreciates the opportunity to contribute its views to the Department’s consultation process. It is intended that proposals on a renewed Coroner system will be brought to government later this year and the Council looks forward to engaging with the Department where necessary.
This submission was prepared by the Civil State Bar Committee and approved by the Council in its January 2024 meeting.