DUBLIN, Ireland - Ireland is beefing up the powers open to coroners, significantly strengthening and modernising them, in accordance with an amendment act signed into law in July last year.
The powers will help coroners in their reporting, their investigations, and inquests they conduct.
The number of deaths across Ireland being referred to coroners is on the increase. 12,061 deaths were reported to coroners in 2018, representing 39%) of total deaths.
"The Coroners (Amendment) Act 2019 is a very important reforming Act and was an important legislative priority for me personally, and for my colleagues in Government. I commenced most of the provisions of the Act on 16 September 2019. I am very pleased that today, I am able to bring all bar one of the Act's remaining provisions into effect," the Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan said Sunday.
"This Act broadens the scope of enquiries at inquest and clarifies that they are not limited to establishing the medical cause of death, but that they may also seek to establish, to the extent the coroner considers necessary, the circumstances in which the death occurred."
The total number of deaths in Ireland in 2018 was 31,116. Of the deaths reported to coroners, 3,375 post-mortem examinations were directed, with no further action required. A further 2,092 deaths required a post-mortem examination and an inquest.
In total, coroners dealt with 17,528 cases in 2018, which represented 56% of all deaths.
The sections of the Act which commenced on Sunday relate to the following:
- Post-mortem examinations and related matters.
- Power with respect to the taking of evidence, etc. at inquest
- Taking of evidence from person about to leave State.
- Directions of the High Court.
The reason the measures have been delayed until Sunday, despite the Act becoming law in July last year, is because court rules had to be put in place before they could take effect.
"The changes in regard to post-mortem examinations directed by the coroner represent a significant modernisation of the provisions in the 1962 Act. They will provide certainty to all concerned in the process and will reassure the next of kin of the deceased," Flanagan said.
"Section 23 will strengthen coroners' powers to compel the attendance of witnesses at inquests. Where a person might not comply without reasonable excuse, the coroner can apply to the High Court to compel attendance."
"Section 24 also strengthens the coroner's powers with regard to the production of documents or other evidence at an inquest. Should a person not comply without reasonable excuse, the coroner can apply to the High Court to compel production of the relevant evidence," the minister said.
The commencement of section 36 will allow the coroner to seek the direction of the High Court on a point of law.
"The commencement of section 36 is a significant advance. It will allow coroners for the first time a procedure to seek the directions of the High Court on any doubtful or difficult point of law arising from the performance of their functions under the Act. As I noted during the passage of the Act through the Oireachtas issues might, for example, include the procedural rights of interested parties at inquest or the interpretation of the European Convention of Human Rights on a new or difficult issue. It is a special provision, to be used at the discretion of the coroner, said Mr Flanagan.
"I do not expect that it will need to be used frequently, but I do expect that it will be used judiciously by coroners from time to time. As such, it will greatly assist in clarifying and developing our coronial law."