The Herefordshire Senior Coroner, Mark Bricknell, was kind enough to invite me to sit in his court at the Townhall, in Hereford. Most of us will go through life without needing to know what goes on in the coroner’s court but vital work is done to safeguard society. However, much of the work is done outside the courtroom. There are roughly 2,000 deaths a year in Herefordshire. Half of these will have no need for any investigation and the Coroner’s office simply records them. Of the other half, the Coroner may need a report and 90% of these will result in a simple sign-off. that leaves 5% which may require further investigation and a court hearing. If the situation seems relatively uncontroversial, the Coroner will hear the case sitting alone, Occasionally, a jury may be panelled.
The office goes back to 1194. It started off as a tax collector, alongside the office of the Sheriff. Indeed, until the nineteenth century, the two offices would have worked in concert (or rivalry). Here is a link to the History of the Coroner’s office on the Coroners’ Society web-site.
On the day I attended, the Court heard two cases, both with an interesting degree of ambiguity on the face of it. Evidence was heard from a number of people and a just and humane conclusion drawn. The nature of the issues is, by definition, sad and distressing for those involved but I came away thinking that society has evolved a good way of ensuring that justice is done without compounding the distress.