Written evidence from Ryk James, Senior Lecturer in Forensic Pathology and Home Office Registered Pathologist, Wales Institute of Forensic Medicine, Cardiff University


My response to the call for evidence addresses aspects of:

I am a Home Office Pathologist in my late fifties employed by Cardiff University. I have undertaken “suspicious death” cases for 4 police forces under a contract with Cardiff University for the last 28 years. I have also become a “pathologist of last resort”. Coroner’s officers or coroners call when they can find no paediatric pathologist, where no “general pathologist” is prepared to undertake an examination or does not possess the skills so to do, or when the number of bodies awaiting post mortem examination has become so great in their locality that they must get assistance. I end up taking on cases where the initial investigation has been inadequate (to the extent of missing overt signs of homicide), where there is no clear rationale for post mortem examination other than “process”, where delay and consequent deterioration of the body renders post mortem examination sub-optimal or pointless, and where the needs of the bereaved go unmet. I assist not for money – because I am a salaried employee of Cardiff University – but because the system is unfair upon the bereaved. It remains unfit for purpose.

This should not be interpreted as a tirade against coroners; it is not. It is exasperation at the failure of government. There have been numerous diligent inquiries over the last century, none of which has overcome the inertia of government and vested interests to deliver a consistent national service to audited standards, which robustly investigates deaths where the public interest arises, whilst being cognisant of the human rights of the bereaved. There is little to be said that has not already been said by Brodrick, Smith or Hutton, but my main points are that:




How can we ensure that the coroner’s autopsy is not an invasion of human rights?

Stephen Leadbeatter, Ryk James



September 2020