New national coronial law centre launches with Chief Coroner lecture

Posted on Thursday 6th October 2016

Prof Leeming with HH Judge Thornton and Prof Hardy

The new national Centre for Contemporary Coronial Law at the University of Bolton was launched on Tuesday (4 October 2016) with the first Professor Jennifer Leeming Lecture, delivered by Chief Coroner of England and Wales, His Honour Judge Peter Thornton QC.

Guest speaker HHJ Peter Thornton QC was appointed as the first Chief Coroner of England and Wales in September 2012. He gave his guest audience an absorbing insight into his pioneering role and the developments he achieved while in post.

Introducing his lecture, HHJ Thornton paid tribute to Prof Leeming, for her work as HM Senior Coroner Manchester West, and her innovative leadership in working with the University to develop the new centre.

The Centre for Contemporary Coronial Law delivers a unique series of professional development lectures delivered in partnership with the School of Law. The courses are for a wide range of professionals who come into contact with the coroner’s court, including consultants, GPs, nurses, paramedics, legal practitioners and the Police. The new evening series of lectures begin in January 2017.

Describing the new national Centre for Contemporary Coronial Law as ‘an excellent idea beautifully conceived’, HH Judge Thornton gave an overview of death investigation in the 21st century, before outlining his role in helping to progress the coroners’ service from a national perspective. He went on to advocate a national coroners service, as had been previously recommended.

Compassion and understanding for the families mourning the death of a loved one are a key consideration for the service, said HH Judge Thornton. He explained how this was a driving force behind his vision for coroners, enabling them to work with a system which cuts back on unnecessary referrals.

With around 500,000 deaths in England and Wales annually, he said 32,000 are referred to the coroner. Of those, 15 per cent are found to warrant an inquest. HH Judge Thornton advocated a greater need for national guidance for doctors referring deaths to coroners, cases where an inquest could be ruled out immediately, and the body of the deceased could be released for burial or cremation promptly.

Coroners across England and Wales currently work with individual local authorities have little uniform process and can feel isolated, he said. HH Judge Thornton has developed ways to bring their knowledge together, including promoting the importance of publishing publically accessible coroners’ reports on the judiciary website. These reports aim to prevent future deaths and benefit organisations such as the NHS. He gave the example of a recent report into asthma deaths in children which was being used by a London health authority as part of their young people’s health strategy.