Coroners are to be given fresh guidance on whether they should withold the identities of dead people after a regional daily highlighted the issue.
As first reported by HTFP, the Oxford Mail lanched a protest after Oxfordshire coroner Darren Salter refused to reveal the name of a dead man into whom he conducted an inquest.
Mr Salter said the man had an “unusual surname” and that he was worried about the safety of children who were related to him.
The Mail subsequently lodged a complaint with the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office, which examines disciplinary complaints against judges and coroners, and wrote to the Chief Coroner Peter Thornton QC asking him to review the matter
Last week Brenda Jones, deputy head of Judge Thornton’s office, wrote to the paper and said the Chief Coroner was going to issue guidance on “the wider ramifications of this topic and others relating the media.Q”
She also said he may hold a coroner/media seminar to discuss these issues.
The issue arose after Mr Salter tried to use the Children and Young Person’s Act to restrict media reporting of the March inquest.
The man in question died at his sister’s house and Mr Salter justified the ban by saying she was a victim of domestic violence and her children were in danger.
The Mail opposed his decision because it said there were other ways for him to restrict the specific information being published about the women and her children.
It also argued that holding an inquest without naming the deceased was ‘nonsensical’ and contrary to Section 10 of the Coroners and Justice Act which states that inquests are held “in order to determine the name of the deceased person and how they died.”
Assistant editor Jason Collie said: “We welcome the Chief Coroner issuing this guidance because we told him that there was a feeling within the media that coroners could be a law unto themselves on occasion.
“It is, frankly, a nonsense to hold an inquest in which you do not identify the deceased. An inquest has two main functions – to identify the deceased and decide how they died.
“Our position has always been that Mr Salter was trying to do the right thing but went about it completely the wrong way and then ignored advice on how to achieve what he wanted, potentially creating a dangerous precedent.
“Our concern was that the decision made by him could be misused by other coroners and so the Chief Coroner’s pledge to issue guidance and hopefully open up the relationship with the media has to be positive.”
The Oxford Mail is still awaiting the outcome of the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office’s decision.
Mr Collie added: “It will be interesting to see if the JCIO does feel this is a case it can take on. However, even if it rules it can’t investigate Mr Salter, the Chief Coroner’s response is hopefully a positive to come out of this matter.”