This Commons Library briefing papers deals with the provisions in the Coronavirus Bill which concern managing the deceased

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This briefing paper is one of a collection of Commons Library briefing papers on the Coronavirus Bill (the Bill). It deals only with the provisions in the Bill which concern managing the deceased. The other briefing papers, dealing with other parts of the Bill and general background, are available on the Commons Library website (Coronavirus Bill: Overview). 

This paper was updated on 25 March 2020, following Commons stages and Lords Second Reading of the Bill. It now includes information about agreed amendments to Schedule 27 (in the Bill as originally presented, now Schedule 28 in the Bill presented in the House of Lords) which deals with the transportation, storage and disposal of dead bodies and human remains. The amendments deal with local and national authorities having regard to the deceased’s wishes, or the requirements of their religion or beliefs, concerning burial or cremation.

Acknowledging that people will die as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government has stated that it wants to ensure the deceased are treated with the utmost respect and dignity and that the current procedures in relation to death and stillbirth registration and management are modified to enable this and to protect public health. The relevant measures in the Bill are stated to take account of the fact that families who have lost loved ones may be self-isolating, and that there may be reduced capacity to register and manage deaths as a result of pandemic-related sickness absence.

The Bill would:

  • expand the list of people who can register a death and enable a death to be registered without the informant attending in person;
  • amend who can sign a medical certificate of cause of death, enabling a doctor who may not have seen the deceased to certify the cause of death without the death being referred to the coroner;
  • relax the requirement, in England and Wales, for a death to be reported to the coroner if the certifying doctor has not seen the deceased after death or within 14 days before death, so that the death need not be reported to the coroner if any doctor has seen the deceased after death or within an extended period of 28 days before death;
  • remove the requirement in Northern Ireland that a death from natural illness or disease must be notified to the coroner if the deceased had not been seen or treated by a registered doctor within 28 days prior to the death;
  • streamline the registration of a stillbirth (Northern Ireland);
  • enable documents that currently have to be physically presented in connection with death registration to be transmitted electronically or by other means;
  • remove the need for a second confirmatory medical certificate in order for a cremation to take place in England and Wales and Northern Ireland;
  • enable Scottish Ministers to suspend the review of certain medical certificates of cause of death and provisions relating to the collection of ashes; 
  • provide that for the purposes of inquests, Covid-19 is not a notifiable disease, meaning that the coroner would not be required to sit with a jury;
  • confer powers to facilitate the transportation, storage and disposal of dead bodies and human remains.
  • Commons Research Briefing CBP-8860
  • Author: Catherine Fairbairn
  • Topics: Communities

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