Chief Coroner’s summary of the Coronavirus Act 2020
1st April, 2020
Following the implementation of the Coronavirus Act 2020, the Chief Coroner has provided a summary of those provisions that apply to the role of a coroner, as summarised below.
MCCDs (Medical Certificates of Cause of Death)
Any registered medical practitioner can sign an MCCD. This is so even if the deceased was not seen by that practitioner during their last illness, and not seen following their death, This is subject to them being able to state the medical cause of death, to the best of their knowledge or belief. Whilst this takes away the need for the same medical practitioner to be the attending and signing practitioner, the onus is on the signing practitioner to make appropriate enquiries.
Registrars in these circumstances will do one of two things:
- if the deceased was attended on within 28 days before, or after their death, the death can be registered in the normal way.
- if there was no attendance on the deceased in the 28 day period, the death will be referred to the coroner.
Attendance before death must be visual, and this includes by electronic visual means. However, attendance after death must be in person.
Medical practitioners’ duty to notify coroners
Under the Notification of Deaths Regulations 2019, a registered medical practitioner must notify the coroner where:
- it is reasonably believed that there is no attending medical practitioner required to sign the MCCD; or
- it is reasonably believed that the attending medical practitioner required to sign the MCCD is not available to do so within a reasonable time of the person’s death.
The Coronavirus Act 2020 disapplies the above for the duration of the Act to give effect to the MCCD Guidance set out above.
The requirements for a confirmatory certificate (Cremation Form 5) is suspended with one medical certificate (Cremation Form 4) required.
Any medical practitioner can complete Cremation Form 4, without seeing the deceased. However, it must be ascertained that a medical practitioner (not necessarily the same practitioner) should have attended the Deceased by any visual means within 28 days of death, or viewed the body in person after death.
The crematorium medical referee may also accept a Cremation Form 4 where the deceased was not seen in the terms set out above, where the death has been registered with an MCCD supported by a form 100A from a coroner.
COVID-19 as a notifiable death and jury inquests
Where the coroner decides to open an inquest, section 30 of the Coronavirus Act removes the requirement for an inquest to be held with a jury if there is reason to suspect the cause of death was COVID-19.
Although COVID-19 is a notifiable disease under the Health Protection (Notification) Regulations 2010, that does not mean a report of death to a coroner is required and there will often be no reason for deaths under these circumstances to be referred to a coroner.
Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.
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