New Zealand Law Society - Law Society welcomes Bill which addresses delays in the coronial system

Law Society welcomes Bill which addresses delays in the coronial system

The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa welcomes the Coroners Amendment Bill which is currently before the Justice Select Committee, and seeks to reduce delays and backlogs in the coronial system.

The Coroners Amendment Bill makes various amendments to the Coroners Act 2006. These amendments aim to reduce the time taken for cases to move through the coronial process, by:

  • Establishing a new position of coronial associate;
  • Empowering coroners to record the cause of death as unascertained natural causes in certain circumstances;
  • Enabling coroners to hold hearings on the papers, where appropriate; and
  • Enabling written findings to be issued stating cause of death only, where appropriate.

The Law Society has made a submission on the Bill and broadly supports the proposed amendments. These amendments provide for much-needed processes to help reduce the backlog of unresolved cases and improve access to justice, and the coronial system.

However, the Law Society considers the Bill could be improved so family members and interested parties are not marginalised, or deprived of their ability to participate in the coronial process, and to make sure their interests are properly balanced against the wider public interest in the timely understanding of the causes and circumstances of deaths.

The Law Society has therefore recommended various amendments to the Bill, which would:

  • Require coroners to consider the desires of a wider group of family members, when deciding whether to open and conduct an inquiry;
  • Provide that a coroner may only record the cause of death as unascertained natural causes after obtaining a certificate or letter from a pathologist;
  • Provide for a statutory process for family members to challenge a coroner’s decision not to open an inquiry;
  • Clearly set out the criteria for deciding whether to hold a hearing on the papers;
  • Ensure interested parties have the right to request a reconsideration of a coroner’s decision to hold a hearing on the papers, or a decision not to enquire into the circumstances of the death; and
  • Clearly set out any factors that must be considered when determining whether there is a public interest in enquiring into the circumstances of a death.

In addition, the Law Society has recommended amending the Legal Services Act 2011 to ensure civil legal aid is available to family members who may wish to seek legal advice on the question of whether a hearing should be held on the papers.

Read the Coroners Amendment Bill

Read the Law Society’s submission on the Bill

Learn more about the Law Society’s law reform committees

The Law Society is grateful to its Civil Litigation & Tribunals Committee, and Criminal Law Committee, for providing feedback on this Bill.