Queensland Coronial Legal Service is a statewide service provided by Caxton Legal Centre and Townsville Community Law Inc.
The QCLS provides legal advice about any aspect of the coronial process and can provide representation for bereaved family members appearing in some inquests. It can help families connect with social work, counselling and other support services.
Between 2011–12 and 2017–18, the number of deaths reported to the Coroners Court of Queensland each year for investigation increased by 27 per cent.
As Queensland’s population grows and the proportion of ageing residents increases, demand for coronial services is likely to continue to increase.
In 2020 the Queensland University of Technology completed an evaluation of the Queensland Coronial Legal Service.
Interviews with families who had used the Service conducted as part of this evaluation found that the emotional support and compassion provided through the Service were key elements of its effectiveness.
One evaluation participant said: “Yeah look, I feel this time that I’m being treated as a person, as an important person. Before I didn’t if that makes sense … but my thoughts or questions might be stupid in the legal sense but they’re still relevant to me.”
Another said: “They [the Coronial Legal Advice Service lawyers] were fantastic. Yeah, they asked me – what was my concerns and I certainly briefed them.
“Their [CLAS lawyer] level of contact and – I hesitate to use the word, caring, but they sounded like a very caring person but – how do I put it; their level of engagement with me was fantastic.
“If I sent a message or request through to them, they would just chew it up and just digest the whole thing and understand completely what – where to go and what to do with it. Yeah, they were really, really good.”
The QUT evaluation also found that families may have the emotional impact of the loss of their loved one exacerbated by involvement in the coronial jurisdiction.
Factors which may contribute to this include confusion about the coronial process, a sense of lacking an equal standing to other participants, limited communication with families about progress and time delays in coronial processes.
Time delays in this jurisdiction appear to be increasing as in the six years between 2011–12 and 2017–18 the proportion of coronial cases that were 24 months old or older increased from 7% to 16%.
A paper commissioned by Caxton Legal Centre and the University of Queensland Pro Bono Centre, Coronial Investigation in Queensland: (Counter)-Therapeutic Effects, documented these factors as well as ways in which family experiences of the coronial process could be improved.
In the period between the commencement of the Queensland Coronial Legal Service in July 2017 and March 2020 the services in Brisbane and Townsville delivered the following:
- 120 families received either casework assistance or discrete legal assistance in the form of legal advice and legal tasks
- 14 families were represented at inquests
- support was provided to a further six families during inquests by preparing pleadings and statements, attending pre-inquest conferences, and making submissions pre- and post- inquest
- Caxton Legal Centre’s social worker provided social work support to 19 clients (a social work service is not currently available at Townsville Community Law)
- assistance to 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, as well as 21 families who identified as dealing with a mental illness or disability and 12 culturally and linguistically diverse families.