The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, last week published the Coroners (Amendment) Bill 2018 (the “Bill”). This Bill seeks to significantly clarify, strengthen and modernise the law on the reporting of deaths to coroners. The Bill also extends coroner’s powers to investigate and inquest such deaths. The Bill, if enacted, will amend the existing legislation, the Coroners Act 1962. Changes to the legislation governing the coroner system have long been proposed, including in a Coroners Bill 2007, but have never been enacted.
Commenting on the Bill, the Minister said that it will “allow a wider scope for inquiry where necessary at inquests, clarifying that they are not limited to establishing the medical cause of death, and seek to establish the circumstances in which the death occurred.” Further, the Minister indicated that the Bill would enhance compliance with Ireland’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.
While it will remain the case that coroners will not have any power to make a finding of civil or criminal liability, the Bill contains a number of key provisions that are aimed at increasing the effectiveness of the coroner’s inquest. These key provisions include:
The Government has also agreed to priority drafting of some further amendments to the Bill, which the Minister indicated that he intends to introduce at Committee Stage. These further amendments (subject to the advice of the Attorney General) include:
The Minister indicated that he intends to move the Bill as early as possible in the new parliamentary session, with a view to facilitating the Bill’s “swift passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas.”
The Bill can be accessed here.
A ‘maternal death’ is defined under the Bill as the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days after the end of the pregnancy (whether by delivery, miscarriage or by intervention, for instance in the case of ectopic pregnancy), from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes, and including direct and indirect maternal deaths.
 A ‘late maternal death’ is similarly defined under the Bill, but occurs more than 42 days and less than 365 days after the end of the pregnancy.
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