Reforms give Coroner stronger powers

The State Coroner will have stronger powers to ensure important evidence is provided during coronial inquests under reforms that passed Parliament this week.

The Coroners (Inquests and Privilege) Amendment Bill 2020 will allow the Coroner to compel a witness to answer a question or provide evidence even in circumstances when what they say may be incriminating.

“In investigating the circumstances of a person’s death, the Coroner relies on evidence from a range of sources including medical reports and statements from witnesses,” Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said.

“This evidence is vital 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. This is particularly important for inquests that occur as a result of a death in custody, whether that be in custody of the police, in prison or a person under a detention order as a result of a mental or intellectual disability.

“This reform makes it clear that witnesses must provide evidence, even in circumstances when it may incriminate them or lead to a civil penalty, bringing South Australia in line with other Australian jurisdictions.”

Where the Coroner has compelled a witness to answer a question, a certificate will be issued that prevents the use of the evidence in other proceedings, providing important protections for witnesses.

The legislation also introduces reforms that will improve the efficiency of the Coroner’s Court, by reducing the number of unnecessary inquests.

The Coroner will no longer be required to undertake a mandatory inquest where a person subject to inpatient treatment order under the Mental Health Act has died of natural causes, outside of a dedicated psychiatric ward.