Report of the Director of Legal and Democratic Services (LDS/23/17) seeking approval for a business case for the merge of the coronial jurisdictions of Exeter and Greater Devon and Plymouth, Torbay and South Devon, be given to the Ministry of Justice for consultation, attached.
An Impact Assessment has also been prepared for the attention of Members and is attached and available on the web at - Published Impact Assessments - Impact Assessment (devon.gov.uk).
RESOLVED that the business case for the merge of the coronial jurisdictions of Exeter and Greater Devon and Plymouth, Torbay and South Devon, is given to the Ministry of Justice for consultation more widely.
(Councillors Brazil, Dewhirst, Hannaford and Whitton attended in accordance with Standing Order 25(2) and spoke to this item).
The Cabinet considered the Report of the Director of Legal and Democratic Services (LDS/23/17) which sought approval for a business case for the merge of the coronial jurisdictions of Exeter and Greater Devon and Plymouth, Torbay and South Devon, be given to the Ministry of Justice for consultation. The Report had been circulated prior to the meeting in accordance with regulation 7(4) of the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012.
The coroner service was an anomalous service within Local Authorities, with them being responsible for the appointment and payment of the coroner and meeting all costs of the service. This included the cost of the provision of mortuaries, pathology services, forensic testing, and inquests. However, Coroners were independent judicial post holders and not employees of the Local Authority.
Within Devon there were two coronial jurisdictions (Exeter and Greater Devon, with Devon County Council as lead authority and the other Plymouth, Torbay and South Devon with Plymouth City Council as lead authority).
The Chief Coroner had published guidance to local authorities on how to organise the coroner service (see Annex 1 – Chief Coroner’s Guidance Note 14 - Merger of Coroners Areas), the guidance adding that it was the Chief Coroner’s view that the number of coroner areas should be reduced in order to create sensibly sized coroner areas and Schedule 2 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 gave the Lord Chancellor power to make orders altering coroner areas. To date all mergers had been made by agreement.
On the retirement of the Senior Coroner for Plymouth on the 31 March 2023 Devon had been asked by the Ministry of Justice to consider the merging of these two jurisdictions to become one Devon Coroners Service. Inquests would continue to be held in current locations and would not be centralised.
To merge coroner areas the local authority had to apply to the Lord Chancellor with a business case for the merger and before doing so it should consult with the Chief Coroner. The Chief Coroner and the Ministry of Justice had seen the draft business case and were content to proceed to formal application.
Having one Senior Coroner for Devon and the centralisation of the support function would provide robust and appropriate support for the work of the coroner’s office and offer economies of scale of operations and a chance to introduce standard working practices and levels of service and resilience throughout Devon.
The next step was to pass a case to the Ministry of Justice who would carry out a consultation with all those interested parties such as mortuaries, pathologists, police, ambulance, funeral directors, registration.
A merger of the areas would require detailed assessment and joint proposal by Torbay, Plymouth and Devon County Council, consultation with the Chief Coroner and the Ministry of Justice, and a detailed draft business case which had been developed.
The Chief Coroner and the Ministry of Justice were supportive of the merger discussions and the Senior Coroner and Devon and Cornwall Police were in favour of the proposed merger.
The financial considerations were outlined in section 6 of the Report, but in a merged Devon coronial service, DCC would be the lead authority and would recharge Plymouth and Torbay for coronial work undertaken for those areas.
A service level agreement would be drafted to cover the merger of the services and would be signed by all authorities before the proposed merger took effect.
In summary, it was felt by the Senior Coroner, and the three local authority leads involved that the merge of the service to a Devon Coroners Service would bring benefits of resilience, efficiency and opportunities to modernise, in order to provide a better, more consistent service to the bereaved families of Devon.
An Impact Assessment has also been prepared for the attention of Members and is attached and available on the web at - Published Impact Assessments - Impact Assessment (devon.gov.uk). In summary, this highlighted that the external impact of the move to one area was small, but with good timely communication prior to, during and after any merger took place there should be no change in the way the public used the service.
The matter having been debated and the options and alternatives and other relevant factors (e.g. financial, sustainability and carbon impact, risk management, equality and legal considerations and alignment with the Council’s Strategic Plan) set out in the Director’s Report having been considered:
it was MOVED by Councillor Saywell, SECONDED by Councillor Hart, and
RESOLVEDthat the business case for the merge of the coronial jurisdictions of Exeter and Greater Devon and Plymouth, Torbay and South Devon, is given to the Ministry of Justice for consultation more widely.