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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2011 Week 06 Hansard (Thursday, 23 June 2011) . . Page.. 2351 ..

There has been extensive engagement with stakeholders, through a Coroners Act Review Working Group, about the proposed reforms. The working group consisted of representatives from a number of government and private organisations, including the Chief Solicitor, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Legal Aid, ACT Policing, the Coroner’s Court itself, ACT Health, the ACT Ambulance Service, and two members of the public who asked to remain anonymous. The Chief Coroner and Magistrate Peter Dingwall also assisted my directorate with practical guidance in relation to the development of some of the amendments in this bill, and I thank them for their advice.

Mr Speaker, it states here that I am going to table a copy of the review document but I do not have it to hand so I might do that at a later point. I will table, for the information of members, the paper Reform of the ACT coronial system, which sets out the 15 proposals for reform of the coronial system that arose from this consultation process, and I invite members to consider the issues discussed in that paper, along with the changes proposed in this bill.

As one would expect, the views expressed on these two important aspects of the coronial system were diverse, reflecting a range of perspectives about the operation of the system.

Turning to the overall content of the Coroners Amendment Bill 2011, the Coroners Act is amended to include an objects clause and some new provisions guiding the manner in which those objects are to be carried out. These provisions are inserted not because the government is critical of or dissatisfied with the Coroner’s Court of the ACT but to ensure that the act contains clear statements about the purpose and objectives of the coronial process. The intended beneficiaries of these amendments are the stakeholders in the coronial process—in particular, the families of the deceased.

The bill addresses much of the concern about the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions as counsel assisting the coroner, by clarifying the criteria for making that appointment. The coroner must be satisfied that the appointment is in the interests of justice, and that the lawyer has the appropriate skill and experience and does not have an actual or perceived conflict of interest.

The bill inserts a new section setting out the functions of counsel assisting the coroner. This is an important amendment because it provides information about what the public and other participants in the process may expect counsel assisting the coroner to do. The consultation process on this review revealed a significant level of confusion surrounding this area of the coronial system. An explanation of the role and functions of counsel assisting the coroner will help to address this confusion.

Coroners will be required to expressly state whether an inquest or inquiry raises a matter of public safety. In connection with this, section 57 of the act is amended to improve the requirements relating to reports following an inquest or inquiry, and the Attorney-General will be required to table a report, and the executive’s response, within six months.

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