By RNZ

The grieving mother of a 20-year-old who took his own life seven years ago is calling for changes to the coronial process so no other family has to go through what they have.

As the country went into lockdown due to the spread of Covid-19, the Taylor family marked seven years since Otago University student Ross Taylor took his own life.

The pandemic marked another delay in legal closure for the family.

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His mother, Corinda Taylor, said the family could not heal while the process hung over them.

"Seven years is a long time to wait and it is seven years where I haven't been able to heal.

"Every time I get a document and we have to submit what the coroner is expecting of us, I have to go through my son's medical file again and each time that scab gets - not gently lifted off - it gets ripped off and all the trauma resurfaces."

First the family went through an investigation by the Health and Disability Commissioner, which took almost four years.

The commissioner ruled Taylor's care by the Southern DHB was inadequate leading up to his death and recommended his psychiatrist apologise.

The first four sentence-long apology was rejected.

They then had to negotiate the coronial process and now, unable to afford legal representation, they faced cross-examining witnesses at the inquest themselves.

Ross Taylor. Photo: Supplied
Ross Taylor. Photo: Supplied

"I'm terrified because I don't know what will happen. The fear of the unknown. The fear that we've got nobody walking alongside us. With that comes the sleepless nights, the nightmares, the trauma. It brings it all right back to when it actually happened more than seven years ago."

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There had been delays as a result of the family trying to navigate the complex legal framework, she said.

Grieving families needed access to quality legal representation at no cost, as the agencies they sought answers from were well represented by top lawyers, Corinda Taylor said.

"The process is not kind on families, it's not fair, and what are we gaining from that when we are grieving, we are vulnerable. And a one-sided narrative gets provided to the Coroner because we are not in a position to speak our voice the way we would've if we had legal representation."

High-profile lawyer Nigel Hampton QC said it was for that very reason that over the past 20 years he had represented many families in coronial cases pro bono.

"It's so difficult for them to obtain representation they can afford and they are not really able to finance what becomes quite high-stakes litigation nowadays and so it does become a David and Goliath battle, which is not what the coronial process should be."

Justice Minister Andrew Little said it was unfair families which did not qualify for legal aid - which had a low cut-off - had to fight for themselves.

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"What I'm most concerned about in this particular case, as I know happens in other cases, particularly where there are other organisations like a hospital and like medical professionals involved, is that they typically come armed to the teeth with their legal help and a family is not.

"And that seems to me to be an inequality that we shouldn't tolerate in our justice system."

He had told officials to look into what assistance could be provided to grieving families, though he accepted it would likely come too late for the Taylors.

A Coronial Services spokesperson said Ross Taylor's case was being given priority and the Coroner intended to hold the inquest this year.

Where to get help:
0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
https://www.lifeline.org.nz/services/suicide-crisis-helpline
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• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
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• NATIONAL ANXIETY 24 HR HELPLINE: 0800 269 4389