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Source: New Zealand Government

The Coroners Amendment Bill has passed its first reading and will now be considered by Parliament’s Justice Committee. The Justice Committee will soon call for public submissions on the Bill.

“The coronial system has long been under pressure, adding to the undue stress of New Zealanders seeking closure after experiencing the passing of a loved one,” Minister for Courts Aupito William Sio said.

“By making these targeted changes to the Coroners Act 2006, we will create more efficient processes to clear the back log, and help many families and whānau who are experiencing unnecessary distress from the delays.”

The Coroners Amendment Bill will reduce the time it takes for certain types of cases to move through the coronial process, and free up Coroners’ time to work on reducing the number of active cases by:

  • Establishing a new judicial officer position, the Associate Coroner, who will be able

to perform most of the functions, powers, and duties of Coroners;

  • Allow the cause of death to be recorded as ‘unascertained natural causes’ when the Coroner has concluded that the death is from a natural cause and no further investigation is necessary;
  • Provide Coroners with the sole discretion to decide whether a coronial inquiry should also include an inquest, while maintaining a requirement to consult interested parties and consider their views; and
  • Allow written findings to be issued with the cause of death only, and not the broader circumstances in which the death occurred, if the broader circumstances are not considered by the Coroner to be of public interest.

“These amendments will help to ensure certain cases in the system can, where appropriate, be progressed more efficiently. The changes – particularly the new l Associate Coroner position – are also expected to relieve the pressure on Coroners by freeing up their time to enable them to focus on more complex cases,” Aupito William Sio said.

“This Bill’s target changes to the Coroners Act 2006, are designed to be progressed ahead of a review of the coronial system to ensure the review will not cause additional delays.”

The Bill also complements other work being led by the Ministry of Justice to improve the coronial system, including a project to better integrate tikanga Māori into coronial processes, and appointing clinical advisors to assist coroners.

Budget 2022 delivered operating funding of $28.5 million over four years and $1.6 million of capital funding to help reduce the coronial caseload. This will allow the appointment of four new permanent coroners and support staff. 

“More must be done to improve access to justice for families and whānau, which is why we committed to a wider, longer-term review of the coronial system as announced earlier in the year.

“The scope and timing of this review are still to be determined, but it is my expectation that the review will involve engagement with a broad range of interested parties. Families and whānau will be at the heart of the engagement.

“Any changes that may result from this review could take some time to progress, so this Bill presents an opportunity to make some targeted improvements relatively quickly. I look forward to hearing people’s views on the Bill,” Aupito William Sio said.