West Australian families have expressed their concerns around significant backlogs and delays in the state’s Coroner’s Court.
- The WA Coroner’s Court has experienced significant backlogs in recent years
- WA families say the delays are prolonging their grieving
- The Department of Justice says many of its cases are with external agencies such as police and PathWest
Three separate families, two from the Kimberley and one from Perth, have all lost loved ones in the past two years and say their attempts at getting closure and dealing with the logistics of their loss through the Coroner’s Court has been an uncomfortable and disappointing experience.
Sandra Moore lives in Derby and lost a close friend in October last year.
“I had been trying to contact my friend for about a week,” she said.
“In that time I realised that things just weren’t right.
“His shoes were still at the front door, the car hadn’t moved and some mail that I’d delivered was still where I’d left it.”
Unfortunately, it was later discovered Ms Moore’s friend had passed away inside his home about a week earlier, and a report needed to be prepared for the coroner.
Just over a year on, Ms Moore said she still had not received a death certificate for her friend of 35 years.
“You need [a death certificate] to close off bank accounts, [phone] accounts, registrations, you need it for superannuation claims,” she said.
“You also need it, I believe, for yourself, because it is a document that brings some level of closure.”
There has been a rise in reportable deaths over the past two years, creating a known backlog at WA’s Coroner’s Court.
According to the Department of Justice, there are currently 1,340 matters due to be before the Coroner, with 75 per cent pending reports from other agencies like Pathwest, ChemCentre, or WA police.
A pain felt around Western Australia
Murray Kinnane from Perth said he was experiencing something similar with his son, Jaxon.
Jaxon died at 22 years old after leaving an emergency department where he had been held on mental health grounds in 2020.
Mr Kinnane has also still not received his son’s death certificate, and said it was upsetting that any decision on whether an investigation would be held into his death had been so delayed.
“We asked for an inquest because we still think it’s very important [to learn lessons from] Jaxon’s death,” he said.
“We worry that the same mistakes that were made with our son are going to be made with other people’s sons and daughters.
“There is no closure.”
Mr Kinnane said as the years continued to tick by without a formal ruling on his beloved son’s death, it had become extremely difficult to come to terms with his passing.
Mr Kinnane’s experience is close to that of Jason Sherwood, who lost his son Jordan in 2020.
Jordan died in a fall in Broome after taking a large amount of Valium he had bought illegally from a local pharmacist.
His family were denied an inquest into Jordan’s death, despite Mr Sherwood and his partner believing there needed to be work done on record keeping in pharmacies in regional WA.
Mr Sherwood has also taken issue with how the initial investigation for Jordan’s death was handled.
He said in documentation sent to the family, 20-year-old Jordan was incorrectly referred to as both Jason’s father and as “Justin”.
Jordan’s post-mortem was also recorded as having happened three months before his death.
“Most families that go through this just want answers and closure,” Mr Sherwood said.
“The way the Coroner’s Court is run at the moment and the way this government runs it — they’re not getting it.”
Backlog flagged seven months ago
Opposition Leader Mia Davies said she knew the issues currently plaguing the Coroner’s Court firsthand, and raised it in parliament in May.
“As a local member, I have had a number of families contact my office seeking answers and wanting timelines,” she said.
“Unfortunately, the answer is quite often it’s beyond our control and they will just simply have to wait, there is a backlog.
“That’s a very difficult discussion to have with a family member.”
Ms Davies and the WA Opposition raised potentially providing the Coroner with additional resources in May, but the delays have not improved.
“I just think it’s one of these issues that every member of parliament will have had a family member come through their door looking for answers, and I would have thought it a bipartisan issue,” she said.
“We want the best outcome for people who have been through trauma.”
A Department of Justice spokesman said the backlog had remained steady since June this year.
“With the greatest delays occurring outside the control of the court, the department is aware that PathWest and WA Police are addressing resourcing shortfalls that have been exacerbated by the increase in reportable deaths, with these two agencies providing reports to the coroner,” he said.
The spokesman said the court provided information to families on a case-by-case basis, and it could be difficult to give narrow timelines.
“Coronial investigations are complex and each case and investigation is unique. As a result, it is not possible to provide an expected timeline.”
Ms Davies said she acknowledged the difficulties faced by the agency, but more resources from the WA government’s record surplus needed to be used to address the issues currently being experienced by other authorities.
“There needs to be resources into PathWest … and, of course, the capacity of the police to be able to respond,” she said.
“It’s a resourcing and capacity issue, and this government is in a better position than any other in Australia to deal with it with their $6 billion surplus.”