A suicide prevention advocate and National's courts spokesman are calling for the release of documents they say outline the strain coroners face.
National's Chris Penk said the Coroners Court system was in crisis, and solutions were needed urgently.
He asked Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall on September 21 to release an unredacted version of a briefing paper sent to Minister for Courts Aupito William Sio.
He said the paper outlined the current workload for coroners and proposals to improve the situation. Penk sent the same request to Sio and said releasing the report was in the public interest. Both requests were denied.
Corinda Taylor's son Ross was 20 when he died in a suspected suicide in 2013. She waited more than six years for an inquest.
Taylor is general manager of Life Matters Suicide Prevention Trust, an organisation she founded.
She said she spoke to grieving families on an almost daily basis.
"They don't know who their coroner is. They've been waiting for many years, they don't know what the next step is," she told the Herald.
Taylor said grieving families also needed independent legal advice during inquests.
"The coroner is a neutral person but the DHBs or other parties, they have got their independent legal support."
Taylor said releasing the Chief Coroner's briefing would be in the public interest.
"She's probably saying we need more coroners. Yes, definitely we need more coroners."
But Taylor said more mental health support was also needed for families going through the process.
"For people that work in this space, they need more education to work with bereaved whānau."
Penk said the system was in bad shape, getting worse, and now cloaked in secrecy.
He said delays were distressing to grieving Kiwi families and he believed coroners were overworked.
"The result is that bereaved families have had to wait for years more to receive reports about what happened to their loved ones.
"This has serious implications for the mental health of these vulnerable New Zealanders, as well as access to victim support services."
Penk said waiting times for coroners to close cases rose 42 per cent from January 2018 to January 2021.
He said the average disposal time for cases at the end of August was 479 days, a 49 per cent increase from early 2018.
Penk said the number of active cases was spiralling out of control and had increased to 5654 by September, an almost 10 per cent increase from the year before.
"It is highly disrespectful to grieving families being left in limbo that we are being kept in the dark about possible solutions to the Coroners Court crisis."
Penk said the minister should set clear targets to provide certainty for families now.
"He should commit to a goal for reducing coronial wait times for grieving families and caseloads for coroners and work from there."
Penk said he was concerned waiting times would balloon due to Covid-19 lockdowns.
Sio told the Herald he was looking at proposed changes, and improving the efficiency of the coronial system was a priority for him.
"I am looking at both short-term and long-term changes and exploring operational and legislative reform in the coronial space."
Sio said he directed the Ministry of Justice to look into the Chief Coroner's proposals but some proposals depended on budget and the legislative programme.
He said that was why he could not release an unredacted version of the paper now.
"The paper will be released in due course in line with Official Information Act requirements," he added.
"I am committed to progressing these changes as quickly as possible in the current Covid-19 environment."
Sio said coroners were judicial officers, independent from the Government, so it was inappropriate for him to comment on how coroners carried out their investigations.
"However, as Minister for Courts I am committed to ensuring the efficiency of the coronial system, including ensuring that coroners are supported to carry out their investigations in as timely a manner as possible."
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:
• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 ,free text 234 or email email@example.com or online chat.
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
• SAMARITANS – 0800 726 666.