Judge Peter Thornton QC has been appointed the first chief coroner of England and Wales. Thornton, who takes up his new role in September, has been a senior circuit judge at the Old Bailey since 2007, and led the inquest of newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson, who died during the 2009 G20 protests in London.
He will head a new national coroner service for England and Wales, reporting to the Lord Chancellor, and will need to set new coroners’ guidelines. Thornton said: “Openness, inclusiveness, thoroughness and fairness must be at the heart of this process if it is to be effective and serve the needs of the public.”
He said he would work towards “national consistency of approach and standards between coroner areas”.
The post was created by the Labour government in 2009 but was never filled since its abolition became part of the Coalition’s “bonfire of the quango”. Nevertheless, in November 2011 the Government announced a reversal of policy. This followed representations by a number of bodies including the Royal British Legion who argued that a chief coroner could help to speed up the time in which an inquest could take place. The Government would not however accede to the arguments to change existing procedure and allow appeals from inquests to the chief coroner. The grounds for legal challenge remains that of judicial review.