Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, the Coroner’s Court has halted with each national lockdown. While a small number of inquests were heard throughout September and October, none have been heard since the November lockdown was enforced.
Inquests on the Island are heard in premises at the combined courts in Newport. With the rooms used by other parties, Mrs Sumeray has said she has ‘no oversight of the cleaning’ carried out between hearings and the room inquests are usually heard in would not comply with government guidance as there are no windows for ventilation.
Another reason inquests are being held up is that witnesses from the Isle of Wight NHS Trust are involved, but as they are treating and caring for many people still suffering from the virus, treating the living must be their priority.
Criminal court proceedings have been able to continue during the most recent lockdown and in some cases have sat remotely but the coroner’s court is not permitted to function in that way. Furthermore, Mrs Sumeray said a large number of bereaved the office deal with are elderly and do not have the IT skills and equipment to facilitate remote attendance.
It has not been addressed how the coroner intends to work through the backlog of cases building, with 1 inquest of particular interest, originally due to be held in March 2020, now approaching 2 years since the death occurred.