Although a coroner’s decision is usually final and difficult to question, there are some situations in which you can challenge a coroner’s decision.

There is no formal right of appeal as regards the verdict of an inquest.  Contrary to popular belief, as a coroner operates independently in a similar way to a judge, the Chief Coroner does not have the power to review or question any aspect of a particular case.  However, you can challenge a coroner’s decision or the outcome of an inquest either by applying under section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988 or making an application to request a judicial review.

How can you challenge a coroner’s decision?

As Parliament has not put a statutory appeal process for challenging a coroner’s decisions in place and there is no automatic right of appeal to the Chief Coroner, challenging a coroner’s decision requires judicial review in the High Court.  A senior Judge must review the legalities of the way the decision was made as opposed to whether the final decision was correct. 

There are two ways to progress a review:

1. Make an application under section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988

Under Section 13 of the Act, the High Court must be satisfied that either:

  • The coroner either refused or neglected to hold an inquest/investigation that should have been held.
  • An inquest or an investigation has been held, but further investigation would be in the interest of justice because there is evidence of fraud, rejection of evidence, irregularity or proceedings, insufficiency of inquiry or the discovery of new facts or evidence.

These applications can only be brought with consent from the Attorney General.  Once this consent has been given, the High Court could order the same coroner or another coroner to conduct a fresh investigation into the death.  Alternatively, they may quash the findings of the original inquest.

2. Apply to the High Court for a judicial review

If you want to apply for judicial review this needs to be done within 3 months of the decision you wish to challenge on the grounds you either disagree with the fairness of the original inquest or with the way the coroner conducted the inquest.  For example, you may feel they did not carry out their responsibilities in full. 

It is important to note the High Court does not automatically have to order a new inquest because there has been a judicial review.

What is the complaints process when challenging a coroner?

The following is taken directly from the Ministry of Justice’s Guide to Coroner Services.  Section 11 – ‘Feedback, challenging a coroner’s decision and complaints’ – sets out the complaints process for challenging a coroner’s decision.

11.1 Feedback Coroners are committed to providing a service which meets your needs. They welcome feedback, including when the service has performed well. You should address this to the coroner. If you are dissatisfied with all or part of a coroner’s investigation the rest of this section sets out what you can do about it.

11.2 How to challenge a coroner’s decision or the outcome of an inquest.

You may challenge a coroner’s decision or an inquest conclusion. If you are thinking about doing this, you should first seek advice from a lawyer with expertise in this area of the law. Some bereavement support organisations may also be able to offer advice. If you decide to proceed, you need to make an application to the High Court for judicial review of the coroner’s decision or conclusion. You should do this as soon as possible and within three months of the end of the investigation.

There is a separate power under which the Attorney General, or someone who has received the Attorney General’s permission to do so, may apply to the High Court for an investigation to be carried out if a coroner has not held one; or for another investigation if this is in the interests of justice (e.g. because new evidence has come to light). There is no time limit for these applications.

11.3 Legal aid for challenges Legal aid may be available for judicial review proceedings.

11.4 Complaints about a coroner’s personal conduct.

If you are dissatisfied with a coroner’s personal conduct you should normally raise this in the first instance with the coroner concerned. If the coroner is unable to deal with your complaint satisfactorily, you may complain to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) (formerly known as the Office for Judicial Complaints). Examples of potential personal misconduct would be the use of insulting, racist or sexist language; or unreasonable delays in holding an inquest or replying to correspondence.

There is no charge for complaining to the JCIO via the JCIO website.

11.5 Complaints about the standard of service received.

If you need to complain about the way a coroner or his or her staff handled an investigation (for example if you feel the standards in the booklet are not being met), you should first write to the coroner, and copy your letter to the local authority which funds the service. The coroner’s office will be able to advise you of the relevant local authority, if you are unsure of this. You may also complain direct to the local authority. If you are still dissatisfied after its response you may complain to the Local Government Ombudsman online or by calling 30 0300 061 0614 or 0845 602 1983.

Alternatively, you may complain in writing to: The Local Government Ombudsman PO Box 4771 Coventry CV4 0EH There is no charge to complain about the standard of service from a coroner’s office.

11.6 Complaints about a pathologist who conducts the post-mortem examination.

If you wish to complain about a pathologist, you should tell the coroner. Serious complaints should also be made to the General Medical Council (GMC). The GMC can take action to remove or restrict a doctor’s right to practise if it considers that there has been a serious or persistent breach of its guidance.

You can submit a complaint online. For further information, or if you wish to speak to an adviser, please telephone 0161 923 6602. A complaint about a registered forensic pathologist (see Glossary) should be made to the GMC and the Home Office.

The most important advice for anyone seeking to challenge a coroner’s decision or the outcome of an inquest is to take legal advice from an inquest specialist as early as possible.  If you would like to speak to one of the barristers in our Civil Law team who specialises in inquests, please contact us today.

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