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What will happen with inquests during the coronavirus outbreak?

The Chief Coroner adopts the approach taken by the Lord Chief Justice in that no physical hearing should take place unless it is urgent and essential business, and it is safe for all involved. If a hearing is to take place, social distancing must be maintained. All hearings that can take place remotely should do so, if it is not possible for social distancing requirements to be met. The expectation is that some hearings will go ahead, most notably Rule 23 hearings. Coroners are reminded that they must however conduct any remote hearings from a court. Decisions as to the most appropriate approach will be left to the senior coroner in that jurisdiction.

As we have already seen, some inquests will be adjourned, most notably those with multiple witnesses and/or a jury.

The guidance stresses the need, when dealing with medical professionals, for coroners to recognise their primary clinical commitments, particularly in these high-pressured times. This could mean avoiding or deferring requests for lengthy reports/ statements and accommodating clinical commitments if clinicians are called as witnesses.

The guidance encourages proactive reviews of outstanding responses to Prevention of Future Death reports and extending timescales for Trusts to respond.

Related FAQs

What is classed as a good ratio of MHFA to staff numbers?

There is not a magic number. It depends on the nature of the organisation, the work carried out, the organisational structure, the geographical spread, working patterns and conditions. We would give specific advice personalised to the organisation and taking all these and other factors in to consideration. There is no such things as too many MHFAs!

Given the recent decline in financial performance, the business is now in breach of its covenants with the bank. Should we be concerned?

That will depend on the terms of your facility and the stance taken by your bank.

Banking facilities often place obligations on businesses to stick to certain financial criteria. For example, an obligation to keep turnover or profit above certain levels or a commitment to keep the bank’s exposure within an agreed percentage of the value of the company’s assets (known as loan to value ratio).

The consequences of breaching those covenants will depend on the terms of your facility, but normally this amounts to an event of default. Events of default can result in the loan (or whatever form the facility takes) becoming repayable and could give the bank certain powers to take action to recover the money that they are owed.

Whether the bank will take action during these unprecedented times is another matter, particularly given the extent of support being offered to businesses via mainstream lenders and the political desire to keep viable businesses up and running. Lenders themselves will no doubt wish to remain supportive where possible. The underlying performance of the business (and whether but for the effects of Covid-19 it would have been in a healthy financial position), the relationship you have with the bank and your history with them will no doubt be relevant to the approach taken by the bank. However, early engagement with your bank (as well as other key stakeholders in the business) will be important.

Capability issues

All organisations have underperformers. Capability is a potentially fair reason to dismiss and is separate to any redundancy procedures.

Generally, capability falls into either absences through illness or underperformance in the role. Those who are absent through sickness can be furloughed, but when furlough comes to an end they will need to go back onto sickness. If you are looking to tackle absence then you need to tackle long term and short term absence in a different way.

Long term absence: You need to establish whether the employee is able to return to work (with or without reasonable adjustments) in the medium term. This requires medical opinion and be careful of disability issues. Reasonable adjustments are likely to be important.

Short term absence: You will need to demonstrate that you have fair absence triggers in place and there is normally be a 3 stage procedure: warning and final warning followed by dismissal on notice. Each stage needs a fair procedure, with written information, a fair hearing and the opportunity to appeal. Be careful of disability issues.

As for underperformance: To tackle this, you will need to have clear SMART objectives in place and evidence of the employee failing to meet these. There would then normally be a 3 stage procedure: warning and final warning followed by dismissal on notice. Each stage needs a fair procedure, with written information, a fair hearing and the opportunity to appeal.

Who is liable to pay the fine for not wearing a face mask at work, the employer or the employee?

If an employee is required under government guidance to wear a face mask during the course of their employment and there is no applicable exemption, any fine issued would be payable by the employee, not the employer.

What amounts to a dismissal?

For the purposes of collective consultation, making someone redundant and/or changing terms and conditions of employment, by termination and re-engagement, is also classed as a dismissal by reason of redundancy and so has the exact same consultation requirements.