Coroners will no longer be required to hold an inquest for anyone who dies while subject to the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards, under an amendment to the law backed by ministers.
The amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill will mean that a person who dies while subject to a DoLS order will no longer be considered to have died in state detention. In doing so it will remove an automatic requirement for coroners to hold an inquest.
The bill is currently going through the House of Lords. The amendment was raised by crossbench peer Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, who chairs the National Mental Capacity Forum.
It comes after a series of warnings, including from the chief coroner in England and Wales, that the automatic requirement for inquests had caused bereaved families distress and created unnecessary pressure on services.
Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen, who represents the Cabinet Office in the Lords, said the government was pleased to support the changes, adding: “The amendment will fully address the concerns that no family, having watched and comforted their loved one through his or her final days, should then be unnecessarily subject to the anxiety and confusion of having their death investigated by a coroner.”
Labour MP Ann Coffey, who has been campaigning for reform of the DoLS, said she was “delighted” at the news.
“Something had to be done to stop this profound distress to relatives. When loved ones die in care, relatives should not have their grief exacerbated by this sledgehammer approach.
“However the system of DoLs itself remains an expensive bureaucratic nightmare that is diverting resources from front line care at a time when there are huge demands on the social care budget.”
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 in March 2014.
The ruling effectively lowered the threshold of what constitutes deprivation of liberty and in doing so triggered a ten-fold rise in DoLS authorisations. Coroners have been required to hold an inquest for anyone who dies while subject to the DoLS as they are considered as having died in “state detention” under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. The government-backed amendment removes this group from the “state detention” definition.