Home Office tackles inquiries overlap

Coroners will no longer hold inquests into disaster cases which are subject to a public inquiry except in exceptional circumstances, under a proposal published by the Home Office last week.

The proposal to end overlap between inquests and public inquiries, designed to shorten investigation times, is the key recommendation in a report prepared by a Government working group on disaster inquiries.

As things stand, an inquest needs to be held into all deaths in major disasters even though a public inquiry may also have been set up. A coroner can adjourn the inquest but has to resume it after the public inquiry.

The report recommends that when a public inquiry into a disaster headed by a judge is set up, the relevant inquest should be adjourned pending the conclusion of the inquiry.

The coroner may resume the inquest 28 days after the conclusion of the inquiry but “only in the most exceptional circumstances”. Relatives could apply for judicial review if they were dissatisfied with the coroner's decision.

The Home Office said the Government intended taking the issue forward when parliamentary time allowed.

But Andrew Dismore, a partner at Russell Jones & Walker who organised the representation of relatives in the public inquiry into the King's Cross disaster, doubted that the proposal would avoid duplication and said it did not go far enough.

“It would be far more sensible if the person holding the inquiry had the same powers as the coroner and dealt with the needs of the inquest, so that the cause of death was included in the inquiry report.”