To the annual president’s lunch of the Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors, where the conversation naturally enough turned to the cheery topic of appointing coroners.
Natural because the previous day’s news had been dominated by the resignation of the deputy assistant coroner who had carried out the inquest into the death of Amy Winehouse.
Many of Obiter’s fellow guests had direct experience of appointing coroners - and also of patiently explaining to councillors that, while local authorities are responsible for appointing, paying and accommodating a coroner, they certainly don’t employ them. The office of coroner dates back to 1194, and despite the efforts of central government (lately under the Criminal Law Act 1977 and the Coroners and Justice Act 2009) remains fiercely independent. However, Obiter suspects that, following the Winehouse imbroglio it is only a matter of time before Westminster or Whitehall feels it has to meddle again with the system.
But here’s an idea to fend such efforts off. Obiter was intrigued to learn that, as recently as the 19th century, coroners were elected, albeit by freeholders rather than universal suffrage.
The Victorian radical MP and medical editor Dr Thomas Wakley (pictured) described the office as ‘the people’s judge’. Is it time to appeal to the current government’s enthusiasm for localism and resurrect the practice of coronorial elections?