NSW coroners overworked, under-resourced

·2-min read

The NSW coroner's court does not have the resources to keep up with its workload and should be restructured, an upper house committee inquiry has found.

The parliamentary inquiry was sparked by separate reviews of Indigenous incarceration and deaths in custody which found the coronial jurisdiction had not been properly reviewed in more than 40 years.

"Evidence given to this inquiry shows that the court is experiencing very heavy workloads for coroners as well as for forensic and other staff and lacks sufficient resources to undertake the important work before it," committee chair Adam Searle said on Friday as the report was handed down.

The current structure of the court - which investigates unexpected and unnatural deaths including murders, deaths in custody and missing persons - also does not recognise its specialist nature and the unique role it plays in the justice system, Mr Searle added.

A restructure should focus on centring the court around preventing future loss of life and enhancing the therapeutic aspects of the coronial jurisdiction, the committee reported.

A growing backlog of cases and delays in finalising others was also causing further grief for the families and friends of those whose deaths were subject to coronial inquiry.

The committee also heard evidence that workplace deaths were not being adequately investigated by the court, with hearings declining significantly over the last 20 years.

Among the report's 35 recommendations, 12 relate to reviewing or amending the Coroners Act.

These include mandating unnatural workplace deaths be subject to inquest and that unions, employer bodies and other industry organisations be granted standing to appear.

Another proposed amendment would require coroners to examine the role of systemic issues, including a requirement to consider whether recommendations not yet implemented from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody could have reduced the risk and likelihood of a death in custody.

Other proposed amendments would provide further protections against self-incrimination for those giving evidence.

The report's first recommendation is that the government finalise and publish a statutory review of the Coroners Act by the end of the year.

The committee requested to see draft copies of a 2017 review into the Act but were told by Attorney-General Mark Speakman the review documents were subject to cabinet confidentiality in November last year.

A government response to the committee report is due by the end of October.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting