ACT Parliament Considering Bill To Amend Coronial Legislation to Improve Process
The Coroners Amendment Bill 2020 (the Bill) was introduced into the ACT Assembly on 13 February 2020 by the Attorney-General, Gordon Ramsay MLA. The Bill aims to make amendments to the Coroners Act 1997 (ACT) with the intention of providing a better response to the need for justice of families engaging with the coronial system in the ACT, and to make it easier for the Coroners Court to implement restorative approaches in its daily practice. The amendments contained in the Bill are described by the Attorney-General as being ".one part of a larger project aimed at making Canberra a 'Restorative City'". The Restorative Cities concept is "based upon the principles of restorative practice – which recognise that relationships are central to our wellbeing, our community and our society".
According to restorative practitioner Rhian Williams:
In a media release dated 13 February 2020, the Attorney-General announced, alongside the introduction of the Bill, that the ACT Coroner’s Court would begin recruitment for a Family Liaison Officer position to provide support to families and friends of deceased Canberrans as they progress through the system. The Attorney-General stated that:
The amendments proposed to the Coroners Act 1997 (ACT) by the Bill are intended to acknowledge the significant impact of a coronial inquest or inquiry on the family and friends of a deceased person. The amendments aim to ensure that, wherever possible, families should be able to engage with the process and be kept informed of the particulars and progress of an inquest into their family member’s death.
The Bill also includes a proposed amendment making it clear that, as far as it is practicable to do so, ". . . cultural considerations should be taken into account and respected throughout the coronial process".
The Bill also proposes amendments which:
- create the definition of "death in care" which is to apply to deaths where a person was subject to an order under the Mental Health Act 2015 (ACT) or the Crimes Act 1900 (ACT) section 309;
- include step-parents in the definition of "member of the immediate family" for the purpose of the Coroners Act 1997 (ACT) as well as expressly stating in the Coroners Act 1997 (ACT) that the immediate family should be invited to participate in the coronial process at the earliest possible opportunity;
- create an error correction power for the Coroners Court to allow a coroner to amend their findings to correct an error, mistake or omission, making it clear for families that they do not need to appeal to the ACT Supreme Court to correct an error in coronial findings resulting from an accidental slip or omission;
- create a power to make guidelines which will allow the Attorney-General to issue guidelines to assist in the preparation of government responses to coronial findings under the Coroners Act 1997 (ACT) section 57; and
- make clear the notice periods for providing information to families in relation to hearings and increasing the notice period required before hearings from 14 to 28 days.
According the Attorney-General the proposed amendments were:
However, the Canberra Times reports that members of the Coronial Reform Group, a group of three members who each had bad experiences with the system, and that has "spent years campaigning for change", have "expressed disappointment" at what was seen as a lack of consultation before the Bill was tabled. One member of the group told the paper:
Another member is reported as stating that the group was:
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Coroners Amendment Bill 2020 (ACT), presentation speech and Explanatory Statement available from TimeBase's LawOne Service