Consultation seeks views on Northern Ireland coroners investigating deaths abroad
Proposals to allow coroners in Northern Ireland to hold inquests into deaths abroad have gone out for consultation.
The consultation, which will run until 22 December 2022, seeks views on whether current legislation should be changed to allow an inquest to be held when a death has occurred abroad and the body has been returned to Northern Ireland.
Coroners in Northern Ireland can currently only hold an inquest where a body has been “found” in the jurisdiction, or where a death is unexpected, unexplained or occurred in suspicious circumstances.
In the rest of the UK and Ireland, coroners, or the Lord Advocate in Scotland, can investigate a death abroad where a body has been repatriated, although that power is exercised differently in each jurisdiction.
Justice minister Naomi Long said: “Losing a loved one, no matter the circumstances, is difficult and traumatic for families. That is only compounded when it happens far from home.
“There may be rare occasions when families are not satisfied with an investigation into their loved one’s death in another country, and may wish to have an investigation by a coroner in Northern Ireland.
“However, I recognise the significant difficulties that holding an inquest into a death abroad would present in practice, given that a coroner in Northern Ireland has no powers in another country to require the production of documents or the attendance of witnesses. A local post mortem is also made more complex if there has already been a post mortem abroad.
“Therefore we need to fully consider the options, balancing the wish to have an inquest into a death abroad alongside the need for it to be effective in providing meaningful answers about the death.”
There is existing legislation contained in section 49(1) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 which could confer power on a Northern Ireland coroner to hold an inquest into a death abroad. However it has not been commenced because of the practical difficulties in doing so.
The consultation seeks views on a number of different options that would provide coroners in Northern Ireland with a statutory power to undertake an investigation into such deaths.