Bill to streamline coronial processes passes second reading

  • Amy Adams
Justice Courts

Reforms to make the coronial system more efficient and reduce the impact on families took a step forward in Parliament last night, says Justice Minister Amy Adams.

“Making the coronial system more responsive is beneficial for everyone involved, especially those affected by a sudden or unexplained death,” Ms Adams says.

The Bill stems from a targeted review of the Coroners Act 2006 which showed the system was working well overall but improvements could be made.

The Bill makes several changes, including:

  • Making coroners recommendations better focussed and more relevant
  • Giving coroners greater discretion on when to hold a public inquest
  • Reducing duplicate and unnecessary investigations of certain deaths
  • Easing the restrictions on the media reporting of suicides.

“Our reforms will help improve the coronial process, widening coroner’s powers and making their jobs easier as they carry out their important roles,” says Ms Adams.

Under the Bill, current restrictions on the media reporting of suicides will be eased, allowing media to describe a death as a suspected suicide, if the facts support this, before the coroner has made a finding. The most harmful details, the method and other information that suggests the method, will remain prohibited to prevent copy-cat suicides.

“The Bill strikes a difficult but careful balance between the useful role positive conversations around mental ill-health can have, while minimising the risk of copy-cat behaviour.”

Other changes in the Coroners Amendment Bill will remove the need for a full inquest to be held when a death in custody is clearly unnecessary, such as from illness or old age. 

“As independent judicial officers, coroners are best placed to decide whether an inquest is necessary. This will also reduce duplicate and unnecessary investigations of certain deaths like deaths of defence force staff in hostilities overseas,” says Ms Adams.

“Coroners carry out an important function and it’s important that our laws allow them flexibility to work efficiently, so that bereaved families can move on with their lives.”

Coroners investigate between 3000 and 3500 sudden deaths in New Zealand every year. The role of the coroner is to establish when, where, how and why the death happened, and also to recommend what might be done differently to stop similar deaths in the future.