The former head of West Yorkshire Police's CID has called for a ‘fully fledged’ National Coroner’s Service.
Under the current set up coroners are independent judicial officers appointed and paid for by the relevant local authorities who are responsible for investigating violent, unnatural deaths or sudden deaths of unknown cause.
But ex-detective Chief Superintendent Max McLean, who has become a PhD researcher at Huddersfield University, has carried out his own research that has shown that there are huge disparities between the decisions made by coroners in differing districts.
The Government, through The Ministry of Justice, has already announced a new legal framework to ensure all 96 coroners nationally will work to the same standards but Mr McLean argues the new guidelines do not go far enough.
Mr McLean is calling for a fully-fledged National Coroners’ Service, overseeing a reduced number of districts, headed by fully-professional coroners.
He said: “From my research it is reasonable to infer that a bereaved family would receive a different outcome in two different coroner areas, where their loved one had died of identical facts presented to each coroner.”
Mr McLean has published a new article in Medicine, Science and the Law, which builds on earlier studies which showed massive disparities between jurisdictions.
In his latest research he has refined the study by concentrating on ten coroners’ districts in England, all which have near identical caseloads and numbers of inquests
He discovered that between the ten districts, over the course of ten years, there were substantial variations in reporting rates to the coroner. The proportion of deaths reported varied from 34% to 62% .
Also, when cases did proceed to inquest, there was considerable variations between the districts in the range of verdicts – such as accidental death, death from natural causes, suicide or narrative verdict.
Mr McLean also found evidence that coroners would record narrative verdicts as a substitute for suicide verdicts, leading to a confused national picture of suicide.
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