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MP told: Coroners should quit at 70.

Byline: MIKE MORGAN

A MINISTER has told Ian Swales that the Government intends to implement legislation "as soon as possible" which would force coroners to retire at 70.

Jonathan Djanogly, Parliamentary Under Secretary for the courts service and legal aid told the Redcar MP that such provision was already on the statute book but had never been implemented.

The response came after Mr Swales used a House of Commons question to ask what assessment Mr Djanogly had made of whether there should be a compulsory retirement age for coroners. The MP's question was prompted by criticism over the length of time taken to hear inquests on Teesside.

And the Minister replied that the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 requires a senior coroner, area coroner or assistant coroner "to vacate office on reaching 70".

"The Government intends to implement this provision as soon as practicable," he added, "though the retirement age will not apply to those in post immediately before the change comes into effect."

Mr Swales asked the Minister to consider meeting with local MPs to discuss the issue.

He said afterwards: "The Teesside coroner has been subject to complaints in the past. Teesside families have to wait on average more than 43 weeks for a verdict - far longer than the national average of 29 weeks.

"The coroner has argued Cleveland Police has not given his service enough support in numbers of coroner's officers, but has been offered a specialist business review."

Over the last decade there have been several calls for Teesside coroner Michael Sheffield, 81, to resign due to delays in inquests.

He says it is a lack of support from Cleveland Police in providing numbers of coroners' officers which is the root of the problem, as well as the large regional hospitals and industrial past.

Mr Djanogly added he will now meet Teesside MPs to discuss the area's service. In November, Mr Swales asked the Justice Minister how the coroner service could be made more accountable.

He added this week: "It's completely out of order that Teesside residents have to wait more than three months longer to hear the verdict than the national average.

"I'm hopeful by raising this issue in Parliament once again and meeting with the Justice Minister in future we can resolve this issue and give Teesside residents the service they deserve."

CAPTION(S):

QUESTION: Ian Swales, right, was prompted by criticism of Teesside coroner Michael Sheffield, above
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Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Dec 16, 2011
Words:404
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