Families will still have to wait for inquests to restart.
“Risking lives to investigate a death is not justifiable,” the Isle of Wight’s coroner has said to explain why inquests are not going ahead. Since the Covid-19 pandemic started, the Coroner’s Court has halted with each national lockdown. While inquests were heard throughout September and October, none have been heard since the November lockdown was enforced.
Guidance from the Chief Coroner said inquests should be done in a safe way and any risks appropriately managed.
Asked if there were plans to restart inquests on the Island, coroner Caroline Sumeray said the situation was constantly under review with the Isle of Wight Council who were supportive of her position. She said: “We are still in the middle of a very dangerous pandemic, where the rates of Covid on the Isle of Wight were, until only a few days ago, significantly higher than the national average.”
Where there is a dedicated inquest room in other parts of the country, some proceedings are cautiously going ahead but inquests on the Island are heard in premises shared with the combined courts in Newport.
With the rooms used by other parties, Ms Sumeray said she has “no oversight of the cleaning” carried out between hearings and the room inquests are usually heard in would not comply with government guidance as there are no windows for ventilation.
An article in The Times found 196 courts across England and Wales had had 599 Covid-19 cases — 69 of those being judges — and Mrs Sumeray said she had no wish to expose officers, witnesses, members of the public or herself to that degree of risk. She said: “It is important my small team do not become unwell, as the role of the coroner’s office would grind to a halt, causing immense difficulties for all those who have dealings with us.”
Inquests are only part of the role the office fulfils and Mrs Sumeray said they had been exceptionally busy in the last year.
Another reason inquests are being held up is because witnesses from the Isle of Wight NHS Trust are involved, but as they are treating and caring for many people still suffering with the virus, she said, “Treating the living must be their priority.”