13 Mar 2020

Extra coroners brought in to relieve backlog

5:40 pm on 13 March 2020

The Attorney-General has appointed eight relief coroners to help reduce a backlog of cases.

Close up of side of shiny wood coffin with hearse in the background

Coffin and hearse at the ready Photo: ( RNZ / Alexander Robertson )

Coronial services have come under strain in recent years as deaths and caseloads have steadily increased.

The appointments were funded through Budget 2019 that set aside $7.5 million to bolster coronial services from Dunedin to Whangarei.

Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall said the new, part-time coroners would work as duty coroners so full-time coroners could focus on managing their individual caseloads.

Coroners investigate the cause of sudden, unexplained or suspicious deaths and make recommendations that might prevent similar deaths in the future.

As well as managing their own caseloads, full-time coroners share the rotating role of duty coroner so there is always someone on call to deal with sudden deaths around the country.

Judge Marshall said she hoped introducing relief coroners would reduce the average time it took to close a case, which in 2018/19 was 344 days.

Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall.

Judge Deborah Marshall, the Chief Coroner Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"An inquiry is not a quick process, but in giving our full-time coroners more time to conclude the active cases before them, it's hoped this will help give closure to grieving families and whānau," she said.

The eight relief coroners are Allie Cunninghame of Dunedin, Mark Wilton of Wellington, Dr Heather McKenzie of Auckland, Mary-Anne Borrowdale of Wellington, Donna Llewwell of Rotorua, Heidi Wrigly of Rotorua, Allison Mills of Whangarei and Mathew Bates of Hamilton.