Page 3819 - Week 12 - Thursday, 29 October 2015

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The bill also contains amendments that continue the government’s priority of improving the operation of our coronial system. It proposes changes to the health care-related death provisions in the Coroners Act 1997 that will clarify and streamline the requirements for coronial investigations in cases involving health care-related deaths.

These amendments will clarify that a coronial inquest must be held for a death where the death appears to be completely or partly attributable to a medical operation or procedure, but remove the obligation for a coroner to consider a death only because it occurs within a set time frame, currently legislated as 24 hours, after a medical operation or procedure that precedes the death. The amendments also provide an own-motion power for the Chief Coroner to consider health care-related deaths in circumstances that, in the opinion of the Chief Coroner, should be better ascertained, and inserts a provision in the Coroners Act to provide a protection for third parties making disclosures to a coroner.

These amendments will reduce the number of deaths that need to be investigated merely because they fall within an arbitrary time limit. Instead, only deaths that really need to be investigated will be investigated. The changes also mean that people who are required to provide information to assist the coroner with an investigation, or who provide information to the coroner because they believe on reasonable grounds this will assist the coroner, can do so without being liable for a breach of confidence, or professional ethics or conduct rules.

I would like to express my thanks to the Chief Coroner, other coroners and staff in ACT Health, and ACT Policing, who participated in the consultation process and assisted with the preparation of these amendments to improve the coronial processes.

The Coroners Act will also be amended to provide that for a special magistrate to be a coroner in the ACT, they must be separately appointed as such by the Chief Coroner. Currently, this is an automatic appointment. It is important that people appointed as coroners have the necessary expertise and experience to deal with coronial matters, which can be particularly complex and sensitive. This amendment is not retrospective in its operation but will apply to future appointments.

The bill will also make a valuable amendment to the criminal trial process in the ACT. It introduces a committal waiver provision that allows a magistrate, on application by the accused and with the consent of the prosecution, to commit the accused for trial without a committal hearing. This will increase efficiency in the court system in consent cases.

A form will be required to be submitted by the accused to apply for a committal waiver. It will require the accused to consent to the waiver and their legal representative to acknowledge that there is a case to answer. The form will require a list of the documents contained in the committal brief to ensure both parties understand the extent of the case at the time the committal hearing is waived. Legal representatives will be required to advise their clients of the case against them so the accused can make an informed decision on whether to waive the committal hearing.

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