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Coroners to get ‘fresh guidance’ on naming dead people

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.”


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  • May 8, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    Our local coroner is certainly a law unto herself. Inquests are held behind a locked door and sometimes begin half an hour or more before the advertised time. If journalists miss them as a result, they are told they shouldn’t have been ‘late’.

    The deceased is almost never identified to the legal standard demanded by the chief coroner, ie. their name, date of birth and address. If asked for this information, coroner’s officers often claim they cannot give it out due to Data Protection, or can only give it out if the family asks them to.

    Key documents are not read out. The coroner meets privately with families ahead of the formal hearing, where she tells them all of the information, then holds public ‘inquests’ which can last as little as two or three minutes, in which she makes comments like, ‘The deceased did leave a note, which you’re all well aware of so I shan’t bother reading it out’. We know anecdotally from families who have been through the process that she agrees withhold information from the public inquests at their request.

    Complaints about the lack of transparency fall constantly on deaf ears. Complaints taken to her superiors are dismissed, usually with a brief explanation along the lines of, ‘The coroner’s recollection of these events differs from yours’.

    The whole service, which is supposed to operate in the public interest, is becoming completely secretive. It is unacceptable – but nobody is prepared to do anything about it. Everybody who works at the coroner’s offices seems to believer the coroner service is actually a bereavement service for families, which is categorically is not in any way, shape or form. They appear to view journalists as despicable vultures – and treat them accordingly.

    Our local magistrates court is going exactly the same way. The press desk has been rescinded and is now reserved for solicitors whose cases aren’t being heard, so they can sit and watch while they wait. Journalists are forced to sit in the public gallery, right at the back where the proceedings are almost completely inaudible, and are literally treated with less courtesy than the paedophiles whose crimes they’re reporting on.

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  • May 9, 2014 at 10:02 am

    Has nobody written a story in your paper about the inquests situation? “Scandal of the secret inquests” springs to mind for a headline. Expose this nonsense in local newspapers. When the coroner objects – and he or she will — publish the letters, phone calls etc. You have nothing to lose. Same applies to making it impossible to cover magistrates’ courts. Do profiles of the coroners/officials with pictures of them arriving and leaving hearings. The power of the Press may be diminishing with falling circulations but local papers still wield huge influence.

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