Saving lives by joining up justice: why Australia needs coronial reform and how to achieve it

6 Mar 2013

This report urges comprehensive national reform of Australia’s coronial system.

Drawing lessons from deaths through family violence, placement in care or custody, petrol sniffing, and the strangulation of children by cords on curtains and blinds, the report makes 11 key recommendations for national coronial reform.

Among these are legislative change, greater information-sharing, strengthened support for State and Territory coroners, and measures to ensure independence for coroners in investigating deaths and making recommendations that can be specifically targeted at government ministers, public statutory authorities and other entities.

Implementation of coronial recommendations would also be monitored by independent statutory authorities under the report’s proposals.

The report details a disturbing and shameful absence of legal representation and other supports to ensure the participation of families in determining the reasons why their loved ones died, and how deaths can be prevented in similar circumstances in the future.

Information about patterns of deaths, investigations and inquests is inappropriately restricted or expensive to access, the report says. Under its proposals, a National Inquest Clearing House (NICH) modelled on the UK’s INQUEST system would instead make information more widely available to family, advocacy organisations and members of the public.

The report was funded by the Legal Services Board and is part of the Australian Coronial Reform Project. The Australian Inquest Alliance comprises 30 coronial advocates, researchers, academics and policy/law-reform workers from across Australia. Its first meeting was convened by the Federation of Community Legal Centres in 2010.

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