The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (“the Act”) changes the law on coroners and criminal justice in England and Wales. The Act is divided into nine parts which each deal with different areas of law.
The principal purpose of the Act is to establish a more effective, transparent and responsive justice and coroner service for victims, bereaved families and the wider public. It seeks to achieve this aim in a number of ways including through updating the criminal law, introducing a more consistent and transparent sentencing framework and improving the service bereaved families receive from the coroner system.
Part 1 of the Act reforms the law regarding certification and registration of deaths by the coroner and replaces the Coroners Act 1988. Chapter 1 of Part 1 deals with investigations into deaths including the general duty on the senior coroner, contained in section 1, to investigate deaths. Chapter 2 of Part 1 of the Act deals with notification, certification and registration of deaths. Chapter 3 concerns the appointment of coroners and coroner areas (Schedule 2). Chapter 4 deals with investigations where treasure is involved. Chapter 5 provides further provisions regarding investigations and deaths.
The appointment of Coroners is dealt with in Chapter 6. Section 35 deals with the appointment of the Chief Coroner and the Deputy Chief Coroners. The Chief Coroner provides national leadership for Coroners in England and Wales. The Chief Coroner has powers to intervene in certain circumstances and presides over appeals concerning the coroner system. The Chief Coroner also sets standards for all coroners and manages appointments.
Notably, section 42 empowers the Lord Chancellor to provide guidance to the Senior Coroner on the operation of the coroner system. Chapter 7 includes further supplementary provisions including a regulation making power of the Lord Chancellor in section 43. An example of regulations made under this power are the Coroners (Investigations) Regulations 2013. These regulations provide for, amongst other things, a register of reported deaths.
Part 2 of the Act makes several amendments to the criminal law. Chapter 1 of Part 2 concerns partial defences to murder. These changes are derived from the 2004 report by the Law Commission for England and Wales on Partial Defences. The partial defences are diminished responsibility and loss of control. The law relating to assisting or encouraging suicide is also clarified by section 59 of the Act. The possession of images of children which is pornographic or otherwise obscene or offensive in nature is prohibited by section 62 in Chapter 2. Chapter 3 amends the law in various areas including genocide and crimes against humanity. The offences of sedition, seditious libel, defamatory libel and obscene libel are abolished by section 73.
Part 3 of the Act covers criminal evidence, investigations and procedures. It includes provisions regarding investigation anonymity orders and measures used to protect vulnerable and intimidated witnesses in court proceedings.
Part 4 of the Act concerns sentencing. Chapter 1 of Part 4 establishes the Sentencing Council and the Sentencing Advisory Panel. The Sentencing Council is responsible for publishing guidelines related to the sentencing of offenders (section 120). These sentencing guidelines should be followed by courts in the sentencing process (section 125). Other provisions relating to sentencing are contained in Chapter 2 of Part 4. For instance, section 127 makes provision for the extension of disqualifications from driving in certain circumstances.
Part 5 of the Act contains miscellaneous criminal justice provisions. It amends the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 and makes provision for the implementation of the EU E-Commerce and Services directives. It also amends a range of criminal procedure legislation to take account of the European Union Framework Decision 2008/675/JHA regarding the treatment in the UK of criminal offences committed elsewhere.
Part 6 of the Act concerns legal aid and other payment for legal services. It allows for the creation of pilot schemes in relation to civil legal aid in certain localities (section 149). It provides that a damages based agreement in relation to an employment matter between a client and a solicitor is not necessarily unenforceable if it meets certain conditions (section 154).
Part 7 of the Act concerns criminal memoirs and introduces a new scheme whereby offenders can be ordered to pay back any benefits they derive as a result of giving accounts of their crimes in the media. Section 156 qualifies which type of offender may be subject to this scheme. The amount which may be recovered from the offender is limited by section 163.
Part 8 of the Act makes amendments to the Data Protection Act 1998 in relation to the powers of the Information Commission. Finally, Part 9 of the Act contains various miscellaneous provisions including orders, regulations, extent and repeals.
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