Clearing the Coroner’s Court backlog

The number of inquests awaiting hearing in the Coroner’s Court almost halved last financial year while the number of matters heard increased significantly, according to the Coroner’s Court Annual Report tabled this week.

While the number of sitting hours reduced (183 hours in 2019/20, compared to 572 hours the previous financial year), inquest matters heard increased from 37 to 90.

As the annual report outlines this is because the Court was able to maximise its resources to hear a number of affidavit only inquests, which can be heard within short timeframes, thereby reducing hours sitting in court as witnesses are not called.

Further to this, the number of inquests awaiting hearing reduced, from 108 in 2018/19 to just 67 in 209/20.

The number of cases involving a death in custody halved, from 86 in 2018/19 to 43 in 2019/20.
Attorney-General Vickie Chapman welcomed these figures and thanked the Court for using its resources effectively during a difficult year.

“This has helped a significant number of grieving families and loved ones, who are waiting for these inquest outcomes,” Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said.

“We hope to see this number continue to decline, with the Marshall Liberal Government committing $941,000 in the 2020/21 State Budget for additional resources at the Coroner’s Court.

“This includes funding for an additional Deputy Coroner and associated support staff, for a period of 12 months.”

In addition, a Bill that aims to improve the efficiencies of the Coroner’s Court and give the Coroner stronger powers to aid investigations is currently before the Upper House.

This Bill aims to;

  • Remove the need to have a mandatory inquest when a person who is subject to an inpatient treatment order under the Mental Health Act dies of natural causes outside of a dedicated psychiatric ward
  • Give the Coroner the ability to compel a witness to answer a question or provide evidence, even if it may tend to incriminate them or expose them to a penalty.

The Bill is yet to be debated in the Upper House.