Following the release of its Background Paper in September 2010 and community consultation and feedback in June, the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia ('LRCWA') released its Discussion Paper regarding the review of the WA coronial jurisdiction and practices of the coronial system, including the operation of the Coroners Act 1996 (WA). The terms of reference for the review ask the Commission to consider any areas where the Coroners Act 1996 (WA):
can be improved, any desirable changes to jurisdiction, practices and procedures of the Coroner and the office that would better serve the needs of the community; any improvements to be made in the provision of support for the families, friends and others associated with a deceased person who is the subject of a coronial inquiry, including but not limited to, issues regarding autopsies, cultural and spiritual beliefs and practices, and counselling services; the provision of investigative, forensic and other services in support of the coronial function; and any other related matter.
Accordingly, the Discussion Paper raises 108 proposals for reform which reflect wide concerns that have arisen throughout reforming Australasian coronial jurisdictions over recent years, including the rights and role of families in the coronial process, post-mortem practices, the place of prevention in the legislative framework, and targeted coronial recommendations and responses to them. Key LRCWA proposals focus on addressing these matters and, as its first proposal, the LRCWA recommends bringing WA coronial legislation in line with other jurisdictions that include a purposes or objects clause. Such clauses outline fundamental coronial purposes such as the required reporting and investigation of particular deaths, but also the broader purposes of the jurisdiction that concern the preventative role of the coroner and the place of families in the coronial process.
Other key proposals include: establishing coronial regions with dedicated coroners, proposals around specialist death investigations (such as deaths in custody) and establishing a healthcare-related death investigation team; amendments to categories of reportable deaths; distinguishing between deaths of a 'person held in custody' and a 'person held in care' and corresponding obligations with respect to inquests; proposals concerning inquests, including legislative and policy guidance to coroners on discretionary inquests, pre-inquest hearings, information provision to interested parties, funding of legal representation at inquest, and the use of concurrent expert evidence; proposals supporting the death prevention role of the coroner, including establishing a coroner's prevention team within the Office of the State Coroner, and proposals relating to the making and notification of coroner's recommendations and mandatory responses to those recommendations.
Amongst a call for submissions on the proposals raised in the Discussion Paper, the LRCWA also asks a number of specific questions in regards to death certification, Ombudsman review of deaths of disabled people in residential care facilities, any role for the Corruption and Crime Commission in oversight of police-related deaths, assistance to overseas coroners, expert advice to coroners, mandatory responses to coronial recommendations, and the removal and retention of organs.
The Commission is now preparing its Final Report. The Discussion Paper is available at: http://www.lrc.justice.wa.gov.au/3_coronial_pub.html.
REBECCA SCOTT BRAY teaches socio-legal studies
at the University of Sydney.