Coroners will no longer deliver ‘verdicts’ following a major shake-up of inquests which came into force today – and can now only draw ‘conclusions’.
The word ‘verdict’ is being scrapped after 800 years because of its connotations with criminal proceedings.
Other sweeping changes are aimed at cutting the time bereaved families have to wait for an inquest.
Some have been kept waiting for years because of drawn-out criminal proceedings but in future inquests will have to be completed within six months.
Any inquests that are not concluded within a year must be reported to the newly-appointed Chief Coroner with reasons for the delays.
The 96 coroners in England and Wales will also be required to work to the same standards and be subject to new mandatory training requirements.
Post-mortems will also be less invasive under the changes and bodies will be released much earlier.
The new provisions also include making documents and evidence such as post-mortem reports more available to families.
Coroners will also be required to notify bereaved families within a week of setting the date for the inquest so they have more time to prepare.
Jeff Gardiner of the Victim Support charity said: “It is often frustrating for bereaved people when inquests are delayed.
“Where the deceased has been a victim of crime, we know from speaking to families that lengthy inquests or a tardy response to releasing a body can increase what has already been an extremely traumatic experience.
“While we accept there may be good reasons for some delays, these are not always properly communicated to families.
“We are therefore very supportive of changes that will speed up the system, in particular where information and reasons for delays are carefully, sensitively, and fully explained to the bereaved as soon as possible.”
Michael Rose, the Coroner for West Somerset said: “The idea is to give more access to families into how the system works.
“There is also greater emphasis on making recommendations on how to prevent further deaths.”
Justice Minister Helen Grant said: “We are making absolutely sure that the needs of bereaved people are put first and foremost – and that this is done consistently around the country.
“I want to see all coroners delivering the same, efficient service across the board, and we have put these changes in law so people can be assured inquests are being conducted quickly, with adequate care and the right support available for those who lose loved ones.”
The changes will be overseen by newly appointed Chief Coroner, Judge Peter Thornton QC.