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Peter Thornton to become first chief coroner

Judge Peter Thornton QC, a senior circuit judge at the Old Bailey, has been appointed the first ever chief coroner of England and Wales.

22 May 2012

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The judge will take up his new office in September. The post was created by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, to develop a national framework of rules and regulations under which coroners will operate.

“The coroner system is of vital importance, both in identifying causes of death and in preventing future deaths,” Judge Peter Thornton said.

“But with any ancient and well-respected system there is room for improvement and development.

“I will aim to provide quality and uniformity in the coroner system, with a national consistency of approach and standards between coroner areas. Openness, inclusiveness, thoroughness and fairness must be at the heart of this process if it is to be effective and serve the needs of the public.”

The Lord Chancellor, Ken Clarke, said everyone agreed that the priority was to ensure coroners provided a high standard of service at what could be a difficult time for bereaved families.

“I am therefore giving the chief coroner the full range of powers to drive up standards, including thorough coroner training, and to tackle delays within the system.”

A spokesman added that Judge Peter Thornton would continue to sit in the Administrative Court to hear judicial reviews on coronial matters.

A spokesman for INQUEST said the appointment was “the culmination of a lengthy battle to create and retain the post, which the government has already attempted, and failed, to abolish.

“This is a significant step for the campaign to fundamentally reform the coronial system that INQUEST has been leading for over a decade.

“It is also testimony to the bravery and tenacity of bereaved families who have shared their experiences with policymakers and the work of colleagues in other organisations supporting bereaved people.

“Each year tens of thousands of bereaved families grappling with the inquest process are forced to endure lengthy delays and an archaic, unaccountable system. These failures also leave the coronial service unable to fulfil its vital function of preventing unnecessary deaths.”

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