A SENIOR coroner has apologised and promised to take action after her public court held an inquest in private.
We complained to Doncaster Council after the inquest hearing of a 57-year-old Rotherham woman scheduled for last Thursday was held ahead of the publicised time and behind closed doors.
The Coroners (Inquests) Rules 2013 state inquests must be held in public - but when a reporter attended at Doncaster Coroner’s Court last week, ahead of the scheduled time, the court room was locked and the inquest had been dealt with in private.
The reporter was told the Assistant Doncaster Coroner, Mrs Alison Kitchman, had taken this decision because none of the deceased’s family had planned to attend the hearing.
Deputy news editor Adele Forrest said: “An inquest is a public hearing and it is just as valid even if there are no witnesses called to give evidence, or relatives of the deceased have chosen not to attend.
“It seems coroners want to bend the rules to suit their schedule and flies in the face of the whole reason why inquests are public hearings.”
A coroner investigates sudden, violent, unnatural or unknown deaths and witnesses can be called to give evidence.
Legal guidelines for the media state that it is important for the hearings to be public and for journalists to have access as inquests help keep communities and institutions vigilant about fatal dangers, and reassure the public that suspicious deaths are investigated.
Determinations on how people died are also included in national statistics, such as road accidents.
Ms Forrest added: “In the age of ‘fake news’, courts and court staff should be working with us to ensure properly accredited journalists, who are trained in media law, are able to report proceedings in full.”
The Doncaster Coroner, Ms Nicola Mundy, said: “I am very sorry to hear what happened.
“This was an isolated incident which was not in line with my policies governing public hearings. Steps have been taken to ensure that this does not happen again.”
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