More than a dozen inquiries still open after one year serving as Bedfordshire and Luton coroner Bedford News

More than a dozen death inquiries handled by the Bedfordshire and Luton coroner’s service had been open for more than a year at the end of 2020, the figures show.

A backlog of cases worsened by the coronavirus pandemic means bereaved people in England and Wales face delays as they wait for inquiries to be held, experts say.

Figures from the Department of Justice (MoJ) show that 59 death inquiries were being processed by the Bedfordshire and Luton Coroner’s Service at the end of 2020.

Luton and Bedfordshire Coroner’s Court in Ampthill

Of these, 13 had been open for more than a year, six of which had been open for at least two years. This is an increase from nine or more openings per year in 2019.

Investigations are held to investigate sudden, unnatural or violent deaths, those of unknown causes, and those that occur when there is a legal obligation to investigate, such as while in prison or while a person is severed under the Mental Health Act.

They should be completed within six months of being notified of a death by a coroner, or as soon as possible after that.

Cases involving complex legal or medical issues, or deaths abroad, can lead to long waits and coroners must report inquests that last more than a year to the Lord Chancellor.

The Bar said existing delays in the criminal justice system, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, are also impacting coroner’s services, with inquests being adjourned when linked to ongoing investigations, prosecutions or cases pending in Crown Court.

President Stephanie Boyce said wait times in England and Wales at the end of 2020 – with more than 3,250 investigations opened for more than a year awaiting treatment – reflect a ‘general lack investment in the judicial system ”.

It took an average of 31 weeks for the Bedfordshire and Luton Coroner’s Department to process an inquest last year, longer than the national average of 27 weeks and representing increased processing time compared to 29 weeks in 2019.

Average weather last year ranged from nine weeks on Black Country’s coroner’s service to 50 weeks in North Lincolnshire and Grimsby.

Director of the inquest, Deborah Coles, said the numbers highlighted a lottery of zip codes in coroner’s departments.

She said the long delays impacted the ability to grieve, adding: “In addition to having an important public service, surveys provide important answers to bereaved families.

“They are often the first chance they have to hear the truth about the death of their loved one.”

A report from the House of Commons Justice Committee on coroner’s services, released in May, also said pandemic restrictions caused significant delays last year as services had to take social distancing into account, some having difficulty accommodating juries accordingly.

The report recommended central government financial support to help the coroner’s service recover from the pandemic and called for a unified national coroner’s service to address the “unacceptable variation” in standards between coroner zones.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said the pandemic posed significant challenges, but praised coroners and their staff for continuing to provide vital services.

The government has provided local authorities with £ 4.6bn to help them navigate the pandemic and has written to the councils reminding them of their responsibilities in ensuring that coroner’s services remain operational, the Justice Department said .

The department also highlighted a £ 110million investment to boost recovery in the justice system and said the number of pending criminal cases had declined since the summer of 2020.

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This notice was published: 2021-06-22 15:26:13

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