Lowest number of deaths reported to the coroner since 1995

01 June 2021

Since the pandemic took hold in England and Wales in early 2020, the number of deaths reported to the coroner have fallen to their lowest rate since 1995. With the anticipated increase in death rates, the Coroners Court had been bracing for an influx in cases, so why did the opposite happen?

Number of deaths reported to the coroner in 2020

A year after the first lockdown came into force in England and Wales, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) published data on the number deaths reported to coroners in 2020. The data shows that in 2020:

  • the number of deaths reported to the coroner was at its lowest since 1995
  • deaths in state detention increased by 18% compared to 2019
  • 34% of all registered deaths were reported to Coroners
  • It took the coroner an average of 27 weeks to complete an inquest
  • Although 7% more coroner’s inquests were opened, 30,900 inquest conclusions were recorded, amounting to a 1% decrease from 2019

The Coronavirus Act and death management

Because the dataset spans the coronavirus pandemic, the MoJ explains that the statistics shouldn’t be compared like-for-like against previous years. This is because the Coronavirus Act 2020 introduced temporary easements to death management and affected the way deaths have been reported to coroners during this time.

A death will always need to be reported to the coroner if:

  • The cause of death is unknown
  • The cause of death is unnatural or violent
  • The cause of death is unexplained
  • The death was sudden or unexpected
  • The individual was under general anaesthetic when they died
  • The medical certificate indicates that industrial disease or industrial poisoning could have contributed to the death

None of these points have been impacted by the Coronavirus Act, and a death will still need to be reported to the coroner if it falls into any of the above categories.

There are an additional two reasons why a death would need to be reported to the coroner, and these are the ones that have been changed by the Coronavirus Act.

Previously, a death would always need to be reported to the coroner if the person who died hadn’t been seen by a medical practitioner during their final illness. Under the new legislation, a medical practitioner can still sign the medical certificate even if they didn’t see the individual during their final illness, as long as the cause of death can be stated to the best of their knowledge and belief.

Previously if the doctor who signed the medical certificate hadn’t seen the person who died in the 14 days leading up to their death, the death would need to be reported to the coroner. Under the Coronavirus Act, this time period has been extended to 28 days and any doctor could have seen the patient, not just the doctor who signed the medical certificate.

These changes have been introduced to help ease time pressures on medical staff during the pandemic. In turn, the number of deaths being reported to the coroner have fallen.

If a death has been reported to the coroner, our Coroner and Inquest Solicitors can provide legal advice and representation during the inquest, including at the inquest hearing. If an inquest results in a civil claim for compensation, we can also represent you in this claim. We can take on most claims on a no win no fee basis.

More articles