Plans for one coroner move a step closer

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Plans for a single Norfolk coroner could move a step closer with proposals to reduce the number of district offices from three to two.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

Plans for a single Norfolk coroner could move a step closer with proposals to reduce the number of district offices from three to two.

The proposed change is in response to the retirement of the King's Lynn and West Norfolk coroner William Knowles next April.

In Norfolk, all three coroners are part-time, but government policy favours fewer paid post-holders.

Since 2000 the county has moved gradually to a single coroner with the numbers of district offices falling from five to three as coroners retire and are not replaced.

In June, the government also set out proposals to overhaul the system which could reduce the number of coroners from 110 to 60 full time posts.

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Families could also win the right to appeal decisions, and reporting restrictions could be imposed on some cases such as suicides.

But with no date in sight for the proposals to become law, the county is keen to bridge the gap in anticipation of the changes and create a more balanced system.

That would see a new Norwich and Central Coroners district, and a Yarmouth district - which would be enlarged to take in North Walsham, Erpingham and Smallburgh.

Members of the county council's cabinet will consider the plans on Monday and there will also be a public consultation before any overhaul is approved.

Norwich coroner William Armstrong said he fully supported the plans and vowed the local service would continue.

Inquests would still be held in King's Lynn and post mortems would also be carried out locally.

“The proposals are being put forward with my full approval and support,” he said.

“The purpose is to provide the best possible coroners service for the community, particularly the bereaved. It's important that it remains a local service and there is no question of people in King's Lynn being expected to attend inquests in Norwich. I would expect to conduct inquests in King's Lynn.”

A report to the meeting stated that there was no logical reason for keeping a separate coroners office in King's Lynn.

“The government's guidance is that local authorities should seek to rationalise where possible and that districts with small caseloads, as is the case in King's Lynn, should be amalgamated,” the report said.

“It is clear from the draft coroners bill that there is intended to be a switch to establishing coroners districts on the basis of full-time coroners and the King's Lynn district could not continue under such an arrangement.”