Blunkett and Irvine in turf war over coroners' courts

By Andy McSmith
Thursday 19 December 2013 05:10

The long-standing rivalry between David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, and Lord Irvine, the Lord Chancellor, is threatening to break out again over who has responsibility for coroners' courts.

The coroners' system, which dates back to the 12th century, has been heavily criticised for its inability to cope with a series of disasters involving multiple deaths, including the murders committed by the Cheshire GP Harold Shipman and the sinking of the Marchioness pleasure boat.

Now an official, independent review has suggested the Home Office should relinquish control of coroners' courts, with responsibility passing to the Lord Chancellor's Department instead.

In all, coroners answer to eight government departments – with the result that sometimes they appear to be under no one's control.

Mr Blunkett is determined to overhaul the system to make it quicker and more responsive to the needs of bereaved relatives.

Vera Baird, MP for Redcar and a leading civil rights barrister, has been pushing for reform since bereaved relatives in her constituency were kept waiting almost two years for an inquest into the deaths of three workers in an explosion at a power station.

"It's logical that it should go to the Lord Chancellor's Department. It's an ancient system, and no one can make a coroner accept help if he is running up a backlog of cases.

"In cases like industrial accidents, the relatives can't get recompense until they know how their loved one has died," she said.

The coroners' system has also come under heavy criticism because it deals with each death individually, and is not designed to spot similarities between deaths.

Harold Shipman appears to have had no difficulty obtaining death certificates for the 260 patients he is believed to have murdered over 23 years. There were also questions asked about why the coroner did not spot any suspicious pattern when four patients were murdered by the nurse Beverley Allitt.