Service personnel inquests update February 2009
(2 Feb 2009) The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice) gave a Written Ministerial Statement to the House of Commons about progress with inquests into the deaths of armed forces personnel who had died overseas:
At the time of the last statement [30 Oct 2008], our Departments reported that 209 inquests had been held since June 2006: 195 into the overseas deaths of service personnel and 14 into the deaths of civilians in Iraq whose bodies were repatriated via RAF Brize Norton or RAF Lyneham.
Since October, a further 11 inquests have been held into the deaths of service personnel who died in operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. This makes a total of 220 inquests held since June 2006.
Since operations commenced in 2001 there have been a total of 244 inquests into the deaths of service personnel who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, including four service men who died in the UK of their injuries. In two further cases, no formal inquest was held, but the deaths were taken into consideration during inquest proceedings for those who died in the same incident.
The Minister went on to mention the Coroners and Justice Bill, which she said
... will make additional provisions for the transfer of cases from one coroner to another in England and Wales—with the chief coroner having a power to transfer cases without the agreement of the coroners concerned—although the approach will remain that only single deaths are subject to transfer.
The improvements to the coroner system contained in the Bill will lead to a better service for all bereaved families, including service families. Improvements include the charter for bereaved families, which sets out the services they should receive from coroners; and a new appeal system to which families will have access.
(23 Jan) Defence Minister Bob Ainsworth has written to the Scottish Justice Minister outlining a plan to allow fatal accident inquiries (the Scottish equivalent of coroner's inquests in England and Wales) to be held in Scotland into the deaths of armed forces personnel overseas. The plan would require an amendment to the proposed Coroners Bill at Westminster, and a minor change to the Fatal Accident and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1976 at Holyrood.
- Times, 23 Jan 2009 - MoD to allow Army death inquiries in Scotland
- Scottish Government press release - inquests for military personnel killed abroad
(20 Jan) Conservative MP Roger Gale asked the Secretary of State for Justice how many applications for legal aid have been made in order to secure legal representation at the inquest into the deaths of armed forces personnel since January 2003; and how many such applications have been granted.
- House of Commons Written Answers, 20 Jan 2009 - Coroners: Armed Forces
- Written Ministerial Statement, 30 Oct 2008 - Service Personnel (Inquests)
In 2006 Mr Gale had asked the then Prime Minister if he would make available resources to the families bereaved as a result of the Iraq war to be represented at coroners inquests. Tony Blair had responded that the families would get all the assistance that was necessary.
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