The New Zealand Law Society says changes proposed in the Coroners Amendment Bill are welcome and timely, including changes to suicide reporting and removal of the need to hold an inquest for all deaths in custody.
In its submission to Parliament’s Justice and Electoral Committee on the Bill, the Law Society also recommends that the Coroners Act be strengthened by adding a requirement to report back on what has been done in response to a coroner’s recommendation, and publishing any failure to respond or inadequate response.
Under proposed changes to the legislation, the coroner would be required to notify certain persons or organisations of a proposed recommendation or comment and record any comments received in a publicly-available register.
“Drawing recommendations to public attention may reassure the public that action is being taken to prevent a similar incident but it is not clear that it will ‘reduce the chances of further deaths’,” the Law Society submission says.
“There is empirical evidence that shows it is the interaction with the organisation concerned that is more likely to reduce the chance of further deaths.”
The Law Society says there is also evidence that requiring reporting back and publication of failure to respond would be effective in ensuring recommendations are taken seriously.
Supporting amendments to provisions relating to suicide reporting, the Law Society says the new provisions provide greater clarity about what cannot be made public, subject to exemptions. It supports this approach, along with a new section which would enable the Chief Coroner to grant exemptions from restrictions. However, it recommends an amendment to require the Chief Coroner to consult with interested parties when deciding to grant an exemption.
The submission also supports removal of the need for an inquest to be held in respect of every death occurring in official custody or care, “taking into consideration that a percentage of such deaths appear to be from natural causes”.
The Law Society says the wording of the proposed new amending section should, however, be clarified to ensure that it is interpreted in the manner intended.
It says the wording could be taken to mean threshold considerations have been introduced, contrary to what the Law Society understands is the intention of the amendment–which is to confer a broad discretion. The submission contains a recommended amendment to better achieve the desired outcome.