Coroner slams inquest reporting restriction plans as 'undemocratic'

A leading coroner has warned that the Government’s proposals to change the way inquests are run are “undemocratic” and “unworkable”.

Aidan Cotter, the coroner for Birmingham, said that the Coroners Bill, introduced to the House of Commons last year, was “utterly wrong” for giving coroners increased powers to restrict the reporting of inquests.

In the introduction to the Bill, former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer and former Minister for State Harriet Harman said it will “give coroners new powers to impose reporting restrictions in cases where no public interest would be served by the publicising the details.”

Under the proposed Bill, coroners will be able to ban the identification of any of the deceased’s family, making reports of proceedings all but impossible.

Cotter said: “In my view that is utterly wrong. Sometimes the press is a huge nuisance and they often do things which are wrong – but it is absolutely essential for democracy.

“Apart from that, it’s totally unworkable. At the moment, the Government is suggesting it should be at the coroner’s discretion. Are you telling me I should be able to censor the press? My job is to bring things to the public’s attention.”

Director of the Society of Editors, Bob Satchwell, said: “I would urge editors around the country to speak to their coroners and speak to their MPs and make sure the message gets back to Government that these proposals must be stopped.

“There are several coroners around the country who are saying similar things to the coroner in Birmingham.”

He added: “These stories are the life blood of local papers and I would urge all editors to write to the Government opposing these new rules.”

The public consultation on the Coroners Bill ends on 8 September.

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