Offices to merge where coroners are overseeing too few inquests

'Too low' death toll set to see coroners' offices facing axe

'Too low' death toll set to see coroners' offices facing axe

First published in News
Last updated
Daily Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Parliamentary Correspondent

Coroners' offices in Hampshire will face the axe if cost-cutting plans to scrap those where the death toll is “too low” come into force.

At least two offices will disappear in the county where coroners are currently overseeing as few as 733 deaths each year.

It comes as Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling is considering a proposal for each coroner area to handle 3,000 to 5,000 cases each year – culling at least 24 across England and Wales.

Of the five offices in Hampshire, only Portsmouth and South East Hampshire, where David Horsley is coroner, reaches the new 3,000 threshold, according to 2013 figures.

The Isle of Wight has the lowest number of 733, followed by Central Hampshire, which saw 1,190 cases and North East Hampshire with 1,191.

Merging Southampton and New Forest, where Grahame Short, pictured, is coroner, with the Isle of Wight, would still be just short of the 3,000 benchmark.

The mergers are proposed in an annual report by the newly-appointed chief coroner, Judge Peter Thornton QC.

Judge Thornton noted that 60 per cent of coroner areas across the country have fewer than 2,000 reported deaths.

He wrote: “That number of reported deaths is too low and many areas have only a part-time coroner.

“Each coroner area should have approximately 3,000-5,000 reported deaths each year, with a full-time senior coroner in post.”

The plan, handed to the Ministry of Justice, would see the 99 coroner areas slashed to “about 75 in number, maybe fewer”.

It is not clear how many coroner courts would close if the merger proposal is adopted.

The annual statistics also compare how quickly each area completes inquests – reve-aling some to be four times slower than others.

In Southamp-ton and New Forest, it takes 25 weeks to carry out an inquest, which is slightly slower than Central Hampshire, where it takes 23 weeks.

In contrast, the slowest inquests are carried out in the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth and South East Hampshire, where it takes 41 weeks.

The fastest is North East Hampshire, where it takes just ten weeks.

Coroners have been reminded of their duty to set dates for inquests at the opening of each case and for a medical report to be produced within four to six weeks.

They must explain, to the chief coroner, why investigations that have taken more than a year have not either been completed or discontinued.

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