25 May 2019

Extra relief coroners will help ease delays - Chief Coroner

10:13 pm on 25 May 2019

Eight relief coroners have been appointed by the government to help reduce a backlog of cases.

Chief Coroner Deborah Marshall

Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall says coroners have heavy workloads and the new, part-time coroners will provide some relief. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Minister for Courts Andrew Little announced today that the relief coroners would be employed at a cost of $7.5 million over four years.

They will work primarily as duty coroners in part-time roles, supporting the National Initial Investigation Office, which is notified of all sudden, unexplained or violent deaths.

"More relief coroners will provide more support so families aren't waiting long periods for coronial decisions affecting their loved ones. Families have expressed frustration over the delays in coronial decisions," Mr Little said.

Andrew Little at Pike River Mine re-entry delay announcement

Andrew Little Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

The new coroners will manage cases from the time police report a death until the body is released from the mortuary.

They will decide if a post mortem is required and work with families around cultural considerations.

Mr Little said the number of deaths reported to the coroner was increasing every year, so more resources were needed.

Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall said the government funding of new part-time coroners was "welcome news".

Coroners worked long and demanding hours and the increased staffing would allow them to work in a more "sustainable" way, Judge Marshall said.

The backlog of cases increased from 3150 in the 2014 to 2015 year to 4089 in 2017 to 2018.

The average time to close a coronial case increased from 311 days in the 2016 to 2017 year to 345 days in 2017 to 2018.

Full-time coroners manage individual caseloads and share the role of duty coroner, a rotating responsibility that continues 24 hours a day, seven days a week, dealing with sudden deaths around the country.

"Reducing the workload for existing coroners gives them the chance to focus on what's before them and close cases that have been open for a long time," Judge Marshall said.

"I'm pleased that we'll be able to give grieving families a quicker outcome as a result."

Corinda Taylor, who has been waiting six years for a coroner's inquest into her son's death, is glad more coroners have been appointed to tackle the caseload backlog.

She founded the Life Matters Suicide Prevention Trust to help families who had lost a relative to suicide.

She hoped the extra staff would help other families from having to wait so long.

However, she said a lack of coroners was only part of the picture, and that legal aid should be more available to people to help them understand the coronial process.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs