Road death warnings to see light after review

By Joanne Carroll

Sharlene and Malcolm Barnett lobbied after their daughter died. Photo / Mark Coote
Sharlene and Malcolm Barnett lobbied after their daughter died. Photo / Mark Coote

Grieving families are welcoming an overhaul of how sudden deaths are investigated.

The Government last week announced a review of the coronial system and the Coroners Act 2006, including a look at whether agencies should be required to make formal responses to potentially life-saving recommendations from coroners.

A Herald on Sunday investigation this year revealed many coroners' recommendations following road deaths were "lost" or ignored by the public bodies charged with making streets and highways safer.

Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean said the paper had highlighted concerns he had about coronial recommendations not being taken seriously enough by authorities.

He had discussed those concerns with Courts Minister Chester Borrows following the newspaper's coverage and said the review was "promising".

"It gives some pointers in the right direction," he said. "A requirement on authorities to respond is something I am keen to see happen. We are improving our database so we can put findings, recommendations and responses online. It was an issue that you highlighted and it is good to see we are getting some response to it."

Malcolm and Sharlene Barnett's daughter, Krystal, was killed on River Rd, Upper Hutt, in 2005 when a 19-year-old disqualified driver high on P crossed the centre line. A coroner recommended a median barrier for the stretch of road where she died but the Barnetts had to lobby the New Zealand Transport Agency for four years before the barrier was put up.

Malcolm Barnett said he hoped the review would redress the situation where families had to lobby for change and shorten the long wait families had before inquests took place.

The Herald on Sunday's coverage of the issue also prompted the Labour Party to draft a private member's bill requiring authorities to respond to coroners' recommendations within three months.

Labour's court spokesman, Charles Chauvel, said he was happy the Government was looking at making changes but said improvements could be made to the system without a costly and time-consuming review of legislation.

Courts Minister Borrows said he was keen to look at how the efficiency of the coronial process could be improved.

"I am happy for members of the public to write to me with their views. I ... intend to take proposals stemming from the review to Cabinet in early 2013."

- Herald on Sunday

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