Written Answers. - Coroner's Role.

Mary Harney

Question:

98 Miss Harney asked the Minister for Justice if her attention has been drawn to the criticisms made by several bereaved families and their call for an inquiry into the limited power of inquests arising out of their experiences at the Dublin Coroner's Court; the plans, if any, she has to widen the scope of inquests and to increase the Coroner's powers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2016/94]

I am aware of recent newspaper reports stating that parties to several inquests have called for a widening of the statutory powers as exercised by coroners when conducting inquests. The role of the coroner in our law has long been of a very specific nature, that is, to ascertain the identity of the person who is the subject of the inquest and to establish how, when and where the death occurred. Section 30 of the Coroners Act, 1962 prohibits consideration by the coroner of questions of civil and criminal liability.

It is, I know, very difficult for those who have been bereaved to accept that these restrictions should apply, but it is a fundamental principle of our law that the only way in which issues of civil or criminal liability can be established is by means of the presentation of evidence and defence in a court of law. My advice is that any law which provided for the determination of issues of this kind in a forum other than a court of law would not stand the test of constitutional challenge.