How to Challenge a Coroner’s Remarks – A Guide for Doctors
UK coroners are tasked with investigating and recording the cause of people’s deaths, where a death appears to have been unnatural or as a result of violence.
As part of their investigation coroners will scrutinise medical records and the conduct of doctors who have had responsibility for a patient who has died. A coroner will be critical of a doctor’s conduct, on occasions, and their comments and judgment might and usually will be entirely proper and lawful.
However, there will be occasions when a coroner has overreached and made comments that are not appropriate and which are unlawful. A doctor may therefore wish to challenge the coroner’s unlawful remarks. This is not necessarily an easy matter.
In the first instance a doctor should write a carefully crafted letter to the coroner requesting that the unlawful remarks are removed. If the coroner declines to remove the offending remarks then the doctor will likely have to initiate proceedings in judicial review. Regrettably, such proceedings can be costly.
See the cases of:
Dr S v HM Coroner North Yorkshire East (Admin Court) (21 July 2015), and;
at para 43:
While we are considering an application for judicial review, in our judgment the same principles apply. No more than on appeal can we re-write the judgment of Recorder Osborne. All we can do is to say that the Recorder was not entitled to make a conclusive finding of dishonesty or fraud against MRH and they should be treated as not having such a finding made against them.
and at Para 44:
Mr Knowles argued that we could excise the objectionable parts of the Recorder’s judgment in the same way that parts of a coroner’s verdict may be quashed in judicial review proceedings – see e.g. R v Southwark Coroner’s Court ex parte Epsom Health Care NHS Trust (1994) 158 JP 973 where a lack of care finding was deleted but the remainder of the verdict remained. We did not find this argument persuasive. The coroner’s verdict is, roughly speaking, equivalent to a court’s order, parts of which may be impugned while other parts are not challenged. The Administrative Court can quash the parts which are unlawful and preserve those which are lawful.
Doctors Defence Service (DDS) can advise doctors on whether a challenge to a coroner’s remarks has merit. DDS can write to coroners on behalf of doctors requesting that the remarks be removed from the judgment, and DDS can initiate proceedings in judicial review. Where that approach does not work or is not meritorious, DDS can assist doctors in making self-referral to the GMC, carefully crafting the submission. For more information on our services, call us on 0800 10 88 739 or use our Contact Us form.
See also our related article: