Coroner’s Court reforms commence

Reforms that give the State Coroner stronger powers to ensure important evidence is provided during inquests will commence this week.

The Coroners (Inquests and Privilege) Amendment Act 2021 passed Parliament in March, and includes a key amendment that will allow the Coroner to compel a witness to answer a question or give evidence, even if it may incriminate them or expose them to a penalty.

“Evidence, both from medical sources and witness statements, is crucial to the Coroner’s ability to provide thorough assessments of how a person has died, and, where appropriate, make recommendations to ensure similar deaths do not occur,” Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said.

“This is particularly important in situations where the death occurred in custody, and witnesses may include police or corrections officers who fear their statements may incriminate them or lead to civil penalties.

“This reform makes it clear that witnesses must provide evidence, however, it also includes protections for witnesses compelled to answer questions. When this occurs, a certificate will be issued that prevents the use of that evidence in other proceedings,” she said.

The reform also reduces the number of mandatory coronial inquests, helping to improve the efficiency of the Coroner’s Court and prevent case build ups.

This includes where a person subject to an inpatient treatment order under the Mental Health Act has died of natural causes, outside of a dedicated psychiatric ward.