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Coroners and Justice Act 2009

Summary

4.The Act is divided into nine Parts.

5.Part 1 reforms the law in relation to coroners and to the certification and registration of deaths. It replaces the existing framework for the investigation of certain deaths by coroners in the Coroners Act 1988 (the 1988 Act); that Act was a consolidation of existing coroner legislation, dating back to the early 1900s. In replacing the 1988 Act, this Part introduces a few new concepts. There will be a Chief Coroner to lead the coroners service, with powers to intervene in cases in specified circumstances, including presiding over an appeals process designed specifically for the coroner system. There will be a senior coroner for each coroner area (previously known as coroner districts) with the possibility of appointing area coroners and assistant coroners to assist the senior coroner for the area (in place of the existing deputy coroners and assistant deputy coroners). The 1988 Act was drafted almost exclusively in terms of “inquests” to refer to coroners’ work. However, a significant amount of work goes on which does not lead to court proceedings and which was largely unrecognised in the 1988 Act. This work is reflected in the Act as it imposes a duty on a senior coroner to conduct an “investigation” into a death – it also reflects that a senior coroner may need to make preliminary inquiries to establish whether the death comes within his or her jurisdiction.

Chapter 1 of Part 1 makes provision for the conduct of investigations into deaths by senior coroners. Chapter 2 relates to the notification of deaths to the coroner and provides for the appointment of medical examiners and for the independent scrutiny and confirmation of medical certificates of the cause of death. Chapter 3 makes provision for coroner areas and for the appointment of senior, area and assistant coroners and provides for their funding. Chapter 4 makes provision in respect of investigations concerning treasure. Chapter 5 sets out the powers of senior coroners and offences relating to jurors, witnesses and evidence, and makes provision for payments to jurors, witnesses and others. Chapter 6 provides for the appointment of a Chief Coroner and Deputy Chief Coroners, provides for inspection of the coroners system and establishes a new appeals system in respect of certain decisions made by a senior coroner. The Chapter also enables the Chief Coroner, or a judge appointed by the Lord Chief Justice at the request of the Chief Coroner, to conduct an investigation into a person’s death, instead of the senior coroner who would otherwise have jurisdiction. Chapter 7 contains other supplementary provisions, including provisions conferring powers on the Lord Chancellor to make “Coroners regulations” in respect of coroners’ investigations and for “Coroners rules” in respect of coroners’ inquests to be made by the Lord Chief Justice or his or her nominee. This chapter also provides for the abolition of the office of coroner of the Queen’s household. Finally it provides for public funding for advocacy at certain inquests.

6.Part 2 contains amendments to the criminal law. Chapter 1 amends the law in respect of the partial defences to murder and the offence and defence of infanticide, and simplifies and modernises the law on assisting or encouraging suicide. Chapter 2 creates a new offence of possession of prohibited images of children. Chapter 3 amends the law in respect of the offences of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, creates a new offence relating to slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour and makes provision about conspiracies to commit offences in other parts of the UK. It also abolishes the common law offences of sedition and seditious libel, defamatory libel and obscene libel.

7.Part 3 contains provisions relating to criminal evidence, investigations and procedure. Chapter 1 contains provisions for investigation anonymity orders. Chapter 2 re-enacts the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Act 2008 (CEWAA) with some modifications. Chapter 3 contains provision about measures taken in court proceedings for vulnerable and intimidated witnesses. Chapter 4 contains provision about the use of live links in criminal proceedings. Chapter 5 contains miscellaneous provisions including provision extending the Queen’s evidence provisions in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (the 2005 Act) to witnesses in prosecutions by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), and provisions about the grant of bail in cases where a defendant is charged with murder.

8.Part 4 relates to sentencing. Chapter 1 establishes the Sentencing Council for England and Wales (replacing the Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC) and the Sentencing Advisory Panel (3)) and makes provision about the Council’s functions and the duties of courts to follow its guidelines. Chapter 2 contains other provisions relating to sentencing. These provide for extended driving bans for persons also given custodial sentences and amend the law relating to sentences for dangerous offenders.

9.Part 5 contains some further criminal justice provisions. It makes amendments relating to the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses established under the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004; enables criminal offences created by regulations (under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972) implementing Directive 2006/123/EC on Services in the Internal Market (the Services Directive) and Directive 2000/31/EC on certain legal aspects of information society services, in particular electronic commerce, in the Internal Market (the E-Commerce Directive) to have penalties exceeding those permitted by the European Communities Act 1972; amends a range of criminal procedure legislation to take account of the European Union Framework Decision 2008/675/JHA regarding the treatment in the UK of criminal offences committed elsewhere; and makes provision about the retention of knives confiscated from persons entering court and tribunal buildings.

10.Part 6 contains provisions about civil and criminal legal aid, including provision for pilot schemes in relation to civil legal aid, and provisions about the enforcement of contribution orders made in cases where criminal legal aid is granted. It also makes provision for determining whether a “damages-based agreement” between a lawyer and a client that relates to an employment matter is enforceable.

11.Part 7 introduces a new civil scheme through which courts can order offenders to pay amounts in respect of assets or other benefits derived by them from the exploitation of accounts about their crimes, for example, by selling their memoirs, or receiving payments for public speaking or media interviews. The scheme is restricted to cases where the memoirs, etc. pertain to offences which are triable only on indictment.

12.Part 8 makes a number of amendments to the Data Protection Act 1998 (the 1998 Act), including amendments extending the inspection and audit powers of the Information Commissioner.

13.Part 9 sets out supplementary provisions about (amongst other things) orders and regulations, commencement, extent and repeals.

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