Reforms to inquest process to be considered by Oireachtas committee

Reforms to inquest process to be considered by Oireachtas committee

'This really is a move in the right direction,' said Neil Fox, who was quoted in the earlier 'Irish Examiner' article asking about recommendations made at the inquest into the death of his sister Donna.

The Oireachtas justice committee will hold hearings in June to address reforms to the inquest process.

The decision has been made this week, following pleas by families in last Saturday’s Irish Examiner for inquest recommendations to be made legally enforceable.

The issue was raised by Sinn Féin justice spokesman Martin Kenny, who wants a widespread reform of the coronial system.

He says he also raised the issue with the committee in recent months and is now glad it will be pursued.

Committee colleague and justice spokesman for the Greens, Patrick Costello, says contact will now be made with various stakeholders, including lawyers and academics, as well as representatives from the coroners' system.

Neil Fox, whose sister Donna was killed in a cycling accident, welcomes the move by the justice committee, saying it is about time that there is a will to examine the possibility of reforming the coronial system. He said:

This really is a move in the right direction. I think the dialogue is positive as inquests are a subject that a lot of people shy away from. 

Barrister Doireann O’Mahony has recently co-authored a book called Medical Inquests, with lawyers Roger Murray and David O’Malley.

She says it is “truly heartening” to hear that inquest reform has been put on the programme for the justice committee, adding: “Proper reform is long overdue, and a key part of that must be ensuring that any recommendations made at an inquest are implemented without delay afterwards.” She says that such a move would prevent future deaths.

“I believe it will be of comfort to the families who find themselves at the centre of what is a very public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the sudden and unexplained death of their loved one. 

"Fortunately, most people never come in contact with the coroners' system, but for those who do, it can just add to their suffering. Our Government has the power to change that, and my hope is that real and meaningful change is finally within sight.” 

Last April, a report commissioned by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties on the coronial system in Ireland, was published. The document, called Left Out in the Cold, highlighted the need for reform of the coronial system, including around the recommendations made at inquests.

The report noted: “Families’ lawyers were concerned that critical verdicts, accompanied by recommendations for changes in institutional policies and/or practices, were not reviewed to establish their efficacy.” 

A solicitor interviewed for the report stated that recommendations “are not legally binding, they are just recommendations, they are usually just a soundbite for the media and nothing else”.

It recommended that the failure to follow up on recommendations made at inquests for reform in policy and practice of various bodies must be addressed, and stated: 

Inquest recommendations are made with the intention of preventing recurrence of death in similar circumstances. 

The report said that the follow-up to ensure recommendations are enacted remains deficient, adding that it leaves bereaved families and their legal representatives concerned that lessons arising from inquests are not learnt.

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