Public sector agencies are being encouraged to work closer together.
A good, if little known example of this already in practice is the work of coroners’ offices, to which any sudden death is referred.
High-profile cases such as the Hillsborough tragedy, the Harold Shipman case, the shooting of Jean Paul de Menezes, and the recent death at the G2 demonstrations have highlighted the role of coroners, the complexity of some of the cases they deal with and the length of time that can elapse between death and the completion of a hearing.
The number of motorways, hospitals and prisons within an area will determine how busy a coroner’s office is and whether it requires a full time post-holder and in some cases, a deputy too. Coroners can find themselves suddenly thrown into the limelight, some sudden deaths attracting a lot of media attention - death whilst in custody being a prime example.
Coroners themselves are either qualified doctors or solicitors; some are both. Support for a coroner is provided by the local authority, who ensure the coroner has both appropriate accommodation to hold hearings and office accommodation for themselves and their admin team. The local authority provides IT support, employs the admin staff, and funds the coroner and deputies’ salaries. Yet the LA does not employ them; coroners are appointed and work for the crown, making the arrangement a very unusual one within local authorities.
Modern office support requires regularly upgraded IT. Admin posts have core duties and responsibilities, but the nature of the work in the coroner’s office has more of a medical and legal nature to it, so this always needs to be reflected in a job description. An additional requirement which is not made explicit in the job description, but mentioned in interviews is a strong stomach. Case files are often accompanied by explicit photographs of the deceased and graphic accounts of violent deaths.
The role of a coroner is one that ranges from ensuring cultural sensitivity required in negotiating out-of-hours arrangements with sections of the Muslim community around issuing death certificates and sending bodies back to Pakistan, to the mundane practicalities of revising fees paid to funeral directors for transporting bodies to mortuaries for examination: does the body of a 30-stone man on the 15th floor of a tower block warrant an additional payment?