Coroners no longer have to hold an inquest if a person dies while subject to a Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards authorisation, under reforms that come into force today.
Changes introduced through the Policing and Crime Act 2017 mean people who die while deprived of their liberty under the DoLS or a Court of Protection order are no longer classed as having died in ‘state detention’. This means the deaths do not trigger an automatic requirement for an inquest.
The changes come after a series of warnings, including from the chief coroner for England and Wales, that the previous requirement for all DoLS deaths to go to inquest had distressed bereaved families and created unnecessary pressure on services.
The chief coroner has issued guidance on the new requirements. This says that coroners will still investigate where there is a concern about the death, such as a concern about the care or treatment the person received before they died, or where the medical cause of death is unknown.
Where a person is deprived of their liberty by a public authority without authorisation under the Mental Capacity Act, then they are still considered to be ‘in state detention’ and an inquest must be held, the guidance states.
For any deaths that happened before 3 April 2017, the law prior to the implementation of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 still stands and an inquest must be held. The new guidance says that the date “is not tied to the notification of death to the coroner, but is dependent on the date on which death takes place”.
In 2015, coroners held inquests for 7,183 people who died under the DoLS, the first year for which figures are available. The chief coroner said the rise was one of the “unanticipated and unwanted consequences of statute and case law combined”, most notably the interpretation of the Supreme Court’s landmark Cheshire West ruling.
The new guidance states that “the vast majority of these cases were ones where the deaths would not otherwise have required a coroner’s investigation and inquest”.