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Mark Henaghan Jennifer Moore

Coroners' findings to be evaluated

What is the nature of New Zealand coroners' recommendations and are they being acted on to help save lives?

Professor Mark Henaghan and Dr Jennifer Moore: "Should mandatory regimes for follow-up to coronial recommendations be part of New Zealand law?"

Dr Jennifer Moore and Professor Mark Henaghan (Faculty of Law) intend to find out in a Law Foundation-funded project that will review all coroners' findings and recommendations from July 2007 to June 2012. They will also interview coroners and organisations that are sent recommendations.

There are approximately 29,000 deaths in New Zealand each year, of which about 20 per cent are reported to the coroner. Most years there are around 1,334 inquests which result in some 212 recommendations. New Zealand needs an efficient and effective coronial system, Henaghan says, highlighting where avoidable deaths occur and introducing measures to prevent recurrence.

It is common for those who have lost family members through preventable death to ask the coronial system to ensure that this does not happen to others, says Moore. New Zealand families believe and hope that coroners' findings and recommendations can “make a difference to saving people's lives”.

Coroners have expressed concerns that agencies are failing to take their recommendations seriously, but are all their recommendations possible to implement? Moore asks.

“Are all coronial recommendations deserving of implementation? Should mandatory regimes for follow-up to coronial recommendations be part of New Zealand law? Any such law reform must be evidence based, not merely anecdotal. An empirical and legal evaluation of whether coroners' findings have the potential to save New Zealanders' lives is well overdue.”

The Otago project will be undertaken in collaboration with Coronial Services, taking account of overseas experience.

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