'Not fair, not right': Cork barrister calls for reform of Coroner's Court

Doireann O’Mahony said it had been nearly a quarter of a century since the Department of Justice had appointed a working group to examine the operation of the coroner service, with a subsequent 2000 report recommending radical, root-and-branch reform of the service.
'Not fair, not right': Cork barrister calls for reform of Coroner's Court

Ms O’Mahony said it had been nearly a quarter of a century since the Department of Justice had appointed a working group to examine the operation of the coroner service. 

A CORK barrister specialising in medical negligence litigation has called for sweeping legislation to reform the Coroner’s Court, allowing for the establishment of an office of chief coroner and a clear set of coroner rules.

Doireann O’Mahony BL, a barrister and award-winning author who has featured prominently in several high-profile cases concerning medical negligence, said there is a lack of consistency in standards of inquests across the country.

“You will not get the same inquest hearing in Cork as you will in Swinford (Co Mayo), and that is not fair, and that is not right,” said Ms O’Mahony.

Making her remarks at the launch in Mayo of Medical Inquests, a book she co-authored with solicitor and SC Roger Murray and solicitor David O’Malley, Ms O’Mahony said Ireland needed a chief coroner, and also needed a clearly defined set of coroners’ rules.

“A lot of the time coroners have so much power, and they’re not really answerable to anybody, and they can make decisions as they go along,” she added.

Ms O’Mahony said it had been nearly a quarter of a century since the Department of Justice had appointed a working group to examine the operation of the coroner service, with a subsequent 2000 report recommending radical, root-and-branch reform of the service.

She said that very little had been done since, with successive governments failing to implement changes required to make the process more humane for families, and she described the Coroners (Amendment) Act 2019 as “tinkering around the edges”.

RTÉ courts reporter Vivienne Traynor with Doireann O'Mahony, at the launch of 'Medical Inquests', by Roger Murray SC and solicitor, Doireann O’Mahony BL, and David O’Malley, solicitor. (Picture: Donal O'Keeffe)
RTÉ courts reporter Vivienne Traynor with Doireann O'Mahony, at the launch of 'Medical Inquests', by Roger Murray SC and solicitor, Doireann O’Mahony BL, and David O’Malley, solicitor. (Picture: Donal O'Keeffe)

Ms O’Mahony said she believed there were few public services as little understood as the coroner service, and it was only when families came into contact that they realised how much room for improvement there was, and how many inconsistencies in standards there were around the country.

“I have come out of more than one inquest and heard families say, ‘It seemed as if he/she had already made up their mind’ or, ‘What was the point of that? What was it all for?’ where family members just feel retraumatised.”

She added that it was past time that Oireachtas members took seriously their duties as legislators, and legislated for meaningful and far-reaching reforms which would modernise and humanise the coroners court.

Ms O’Mahony told The Echo she and her co-authors have been invited to address the Oireachtas Justice Committee on reform of the Coroner's Court next week.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said Minister Helen McEntee “is committed to reform in this area, and her Justice Plan 2022 commits to bringing forward nationwide coroner review proposals later this year to address identified issues and drive innovative change”.

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