NSW Coroner’s Court needs restructure and more resourcing to reduce delays

29th Sep 2021

The NSW Coroner’s Court needs to be restructured and better resourced to reduce the current extensive delays, allow it to better examine systemic issues and ensure its recommendations are acted on, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

“The current hybrid structure of the Coroner’s Court means that coronial inquests, particularly in regional areas, sometimes take several years to resolve,” said Ms Catherine Henry, lawyer and ALA spokesperson. “This protracted process is very distressing for the families of the deceased.

“In one case involving the death of a teenager, that my firm handled, it took five years to complete the Inquest. This was a highly traumatic experience for the family.

“Holding an inquiry several years after a death can also detract from the quality of the evidence and diminish the usefulness of any recommendations made by the Coroner.”

The ALA gave evidence today at a hearing before the NSW Legislative Council Select Committee regarding coronial jurisdiction in NSW.

“We strongly believe that the NSW Coroner’s Court should be a stand-alone, specialist Coroner’s Court, similar to the specialist Coroner’s Courts in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia,” said Ms Henry.

"More funding and resourcing is needed to ensure that the NSW Coroner’s Court can effectively investigate deaths in a timely manner. The current workload of magistrates, particularly in regional NSW, makes it very challenging for coronial matters to be addressed in an appropriate timeframe.

“An injection of funding will ensure the Coroner’s Court can function more effectively without detracting from the resources of the NSW Local Court.”

In evidence to the Inquiry, the ALA also explained that the Coroner’s Court should have the power to examine broader systemic issues, make recommendations for system-wide improvements and to compel organisations to respond to those recommendations.

“The current system lacks concrete mechanisms to ensure government departments and correctional centres act on recommendations made by the Coroner in relation to deaths in custody,” said Ms Henry.

“Legislative changes are important to ensure the Coroner has structures in place to examine systemic issues in relation to deaths in custody, in particular for First Nations people.”

Tags: NSW courts deaths in custody