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21 May 2008 : Column 27WS

A statutory duty to report deaths to coroners, to be introduced through the Coroners and Death Certification Bill, will be placed on registered medical practitioners only, although it will not prevent anyone else from being able to report a death, including family members if they have concerns. The Bill will give the Lord Chancellor the power, in consultation with the Secretary of State for Health, to make regulations which set out the circumstances in which deaths must be referred to the coroner.

The response paper indicates what we are doing ahead of legislation to take this policy forward. We will work across Government and with those who work in the coroners service to produce national guidance for England and Wales to clarify which deaths should be reported to the coroner. This national guidance will form the basis of the list of reportable deaths, and will be framed in secondary legislation and associated guidance under the Coroners and Death Certification Bill when it is implemented.

The Cremation Regulations 1930 have been amended on a number of occasions and are now seen as old-fashioned and confusing. It is intended they will be modernised and consolidated. There will also be two major policy changes. First, bereaved families will have the right to inspect the medical forms before the cremation takes place. This is an important Shipman-related reform. The families of Shipman’s victims believed that if they had had seen the cremation forms Shipman had completed about their relatives, they would have recognised that the information was wrong and Shipman would have been exposed much sooner. The Government believe that this is likely to have been the case, Secondly, the regulation on the handling of contagious diseases will be replaced by a simpler procedure permitting the rapid throughput of cases. In the light of the responses we have received, we intend to introduce the new regulations together with accompanying guidance for stakeholders before the end of the year.

The new statutory duty and the changes to the cremation regulations complement the Government’s proposals for improving the process of death certification. A summary of responses to the public consultation on these important reforms is being published today by the Department of Health.

Copies of both summary of responses have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

Northern Ireland

Youth Justice Agency (Corporate Plan 2008-11 and Business Plan 2008-09)

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): I have placed copies of the Youth Justice Agency’s Corporate Plan for 2008-11 and Business Plan for 2008-09 in the Libraries of both Houses.

The business plan contains 14 key performance targets I have set for the agency for 2008-09. These are:

21 May 2008 : Column 28WS


DNA Profiles Disk Inquiry

The Solicitor-General (Vera Baird): My right hon. Friend the Attorney-General has made the following written ministerial statement:

“I am today publishing a report from Peter Lewis, the Chief Executive of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), of his inquiry into the CPS handling of a disk containing 2,159 Dutch DNA serious crime scene profiles that had been sent to the CPS by the Dutch authorities in January 2007.

Mr. Lewis’s inquiry comprised three key strands, which have established:

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The Solicitor-General and I are very grateful to Peter Lewis for his thorough inquiry and for this comprehensive report. On the basis of this, we are in no doubt that there is potentially immense value in these exchanges of data and in the investment the UK Government have made in establishing a DNA database. The exchange of information may lead to the prosecution of criminals who would not otherwise be brought to justice.

However, the report reveals significant shortcomings in the way in which this process was planned and implemented. The report sets out that at no time had it been agreed that the Dutch DNA disk should be sent to the CPS, and that it should rather have been sent to the UK central authority. But there was a highly regrettable delay to the process while the disk was in the possession of the CPS.

The report identifies actions taken by the CPS to address internal performance issues. It also makes a number of recommendations for managing the mutual exchange of DNA data more effectively in the future.

These are:

These recommendations have been accepted and the National Policing Improvement Agency will lead on ensuring that they are followed. In addition, the UK agreed to the EU Council decision on PRUM in June 2007 which will provide member states’ law enforcement authorities with access to DNA and fingerprint data on a hit or no hit basis, and direct access to vehicle registration. This will allow for much quicker and improved tools to share data for the detection, investigation and prevention of serious crime whilst maintaining appropriate data protection safeguards. It is due to be implemented three years from adoption by the European Union Council of Ministers, which is expected shortly.

The report indicates that action has been taken since January 2008 to analyse the Dutch data and compare it to the UK DNA database. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made a commitment that Ministers will report to Parliament once the outcome of the police investigation following liaison with the Dutch authorities is complete.

Copies of the report will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.”

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