Case management conferences
Coroners have the power to gather some or all of the parties in an investigation together so that they can plan out the rest of the investigation or the inquest. This meeting is called a ‘case management conference’. It allows parties to understand what has been done in the investigation, what is currently occurring and what is still to come. These conferences can occur at any stage in the proceedings. The conference is a two-way process where parties can ask questions, advise the coroner of any issues and provide information relevant to the investigation. Conferences are most often held when an inquest is planned and they help parties to understand what the issues in an inquest are and what they may need to do to prepare for the inquest.
A coroner may send a written notice of a case management conference to parties or the coroners’ office may make telephone contact. Whichever method they use, parties will always be told the date, time and location of the conference. Legal practitioners may attend with their clients. The conference is usually chaired by a coroner, who may direct the parties to do one or all of the following (Rule 22(5)):
- identify any issues that the person expects to arise in the investigation
- identify anybody who the person considers might be a potential witness in the investigation and indicate the probable nature of their evidence
- produce any document or thing that the person considers might be relevant to the investigation
- confer with any other person about the investigation
- find out information or procure documents that might be relevant to the investigation
- take any other reasonable action that it is within the person’s power to take for the purpose of facilitating the investigation.
In order to ensure that the investigation runs as smoothly as possible, the chair of the conference may also:
- set a date and time for an inquest (and indicate how long it may take)
- invite other people to attend the conference if they think those people may be able to contribute something of value to the conference
- if privacy requires it, direct a person to leave for some or all of the conference
- adjourn the conference (postpone it to another time and / or day) to enable further information to be provided.
In the unusual case where the chair of the conference is not the coroner conducting the investigation, a report will be provided to the investigating coroner informing them of the progress made at the conference and any issues raised.
Case management conferences can also be used to:
- ensure parties are aware of / provided with copies of any documents which may invite adverse findings against them, this assists to:
- ensure parties have adequate time to prepare for any inquest
- avoid any unnecessary adjournments
- identify all recognised ‘interested persons’
- clearly define the issues (and therefore identify and narrow the scope of any inquest)
- identify all witnesses to be called (and check / confirm their availability)
- ensure that the coroner is aware of all the documents that parties wish to tender
- identify primary documents to be tendered
- deal with preliminary and administrative applications (leave to appear, access to documents and such)
- talk families and friends though the inquest process and check if there are any areas they would particularly like explored
- identify any areas where further information or investigation is required
- raise issues such as de-identification, exclusion of persons from proceedings, restrictions of publication of evidence and other matters that should be discussed before any inquest commences.