The chief coroner has proposed standardising salaries and fees for coroners across England and Wales after a survey revealed highly variable figures and diverse payment arrangements.
In his annual report to lord chancellor Michael Gove, His Honour Judge Peter Thornton QC said such a lack of consistency is 'not satisfactory'.
‘This is public money. It should be spent appropriately and in a way in which demonstrates accountability to the public,’ he said.
A survey conducted by the chief coroner, with the assistance of the Ministry of Justice, showed that salaries of full-time senior coroners varied by up to £70,000 per year. The highest-paid senior coroner is part time with a jurisdiction of less than 2,000 reported deaths a year.
Thornton said that jurisdictions should have 3,000-5,000 reported deaths.
Although a voluntary scheme of standardising pay between the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Coroners' Society of England and Wales was agreed in 2011, he said it is ‘certainly arguable that this has lapsed’.
Thornton suggested that the Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB), which independently recommends the pay of judges and tribunal members, should make a similar assessment for coroners.
If the proposal is adopted there would be a considerable time before implementation, he said, adding that he was considering as an interim measure recommending a scale of salaries and fees to local authorities for newly appointed coroners.
‘These proposals are being discussed with and considered by relevant stakeholders,’ he said.
The Coroners' Society of England and Wales welcomed the proposal to refer salaries to the SSRB, adding that the LGA has ‘consistently’ refused this in the past.
‘This would achieve consistency, transparency and would bring coroners’ remuneration into scale with that of other members of the judiciary,’ professor Jennifer Leeming, salaries secretary of the Coroners' Society and chair of the society’s local government committee, told the Gazette.
The Coroners' Society has obtained an independent evaluation of coroners’ roles from consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers to provide guidance on salary negotiations before the SSRB is able to recommend pay levels.
Leeming said that the report recommends a consistent scale of salaries for all coroners within the levels applied to the judiciary, which, if adopted, would remove the anomalies such as long-inquest payments.
The society 'recommends that this report should now form guidance for local authorities and for all coroners, both existing and newly appointed, in their salary negotiations,’ Leeming said.