New law is not the answer to autopsy woes

New autopsy laws will not protect Jewish families from forced surgical post-mortems being preformed on their loved ones, according to one expert.

Simon Nelson, coroner for Bury, Rochdale and Oldham in Greater Manchester, said the new Coroners and Justice Act, which becomes law this week, contains “no directive at all” to ensure that non-invasive alternatives, such as MRI scanning, are used where available.

It is hoped that a national coroner’s charter and chief coroner guidance created under the Act will ensure that coroners listen to families’ religious wishes for non-invasive post mortems.

But Mr Nelson said: “The Act formally recognises the use of alternatives and does mention MRI scanning, which is progress in a way.

“But decisions are still down to individual coroners. The chief coroner has given guidance and it is no more than that, but a coroner may be criticised if he or she fails to follow it.”

Mr Nelson, who has been a key figure in ensuring MRI scanning is available to the Jewish and Muslim communities in Greater Manchester, said coroners were hampered by inconsistent national availability of scanners and radiologists.

He added that the government had chosen not to implement a proposed appeals system for families to challenge coroners’ decisions.

“A coroner in his own jurisdiction is totally autonomous. There is no national system,” Mr Nelson concluded.

The comments run contrary to those of Justice Minister Helen Grant, who told Parliament two weeks ago that the Act introduces a new national framework to “put the needs of bereaved people at the heart of the coroner system”.

Last updated: 1:45pm, July 26 2013