JNC for coroners – Management side circular 26 August 2022


Sarah Ward
Management Side Secretary

Local Government Association
18 Smith Square,
London, SW1P 3HZ
coroners.queries@local.gov.uk

JOINT NEGOTIATING COMMITTEE FOR CORONERS


To: Chief Executives (London Boroughs, Metropolitan Districts, County Councils and Unitary Councils in England and Wales) 


26 August 2022

Dear colleague,  

  1. We recently issued a survey to local authorities which included questions relating to this year’s pay negotiation and the 8 per cent increase in salaries and fees sought by the Coroners’ Society, the body which represents coroners on the Joint Negotiating Committee for Coroners. 
  2. Coroner representatives have subsequently suggested that the attached letter be circulated to local authorities setting out its rationale for such an increase. The content of the attached letter is therefore solely the view of the coroners’ representatives. 
  3. The letter raises a number of points, which will be discussed in more detail as part of the negotiation and with management side members as they consider the claim. Accordingly, this circular is not intended to set out a response to the claim.
  4. The commitment of coroners, and indeed more widely public sector employees, as a consequence of the pandemic is appreciated by all.  
  5. Arrangements for the judiciary and any recommendations it makes to government on pay or any other matters such as pensions, are a matter for the Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB). The most recent recommendation made by the SSRB for the judiciary was for a pay award of 3.5 per cent for all judicial office holders within the remit group for 2022/23, applied equally to all salary groups. The government indicated last month that it intends to reject the SSRB’s recommendation and propose a 3 per cent pay award for all judicial office holders within the remit group for 2022/23.
  6. Pay arrangements for coroners are a matter for the JNC for Coroners unless alternative arrangements have been determined locally. Management side members will take a number of factors into account before responding to the claim including the position on pay for chief officers within local authorities where a final offer which would be effective from 1 April 2022 has been made of ‘an increase of £1,925 on basic salary (basic salary should exclude other separately identified payments such as Returning Officer fees etc)’.
  7. Coroners’ representatives have made reference to recruitment and retention problems in the attached letter. However, to date, number or quality of applicants has not been raised with the management side of the JNC by local authorities as a general cause for concern.
  8. The reference at the end of the attached letter quoting from joint circular 63 (November 2018) was not intended to suggest the JNC has any remit in respect of any locally determined arrangements. It was written in the context of the rest of the circular which related to agreement on a new pay structure for authorities that use the JNC arrangements. The wording in the last joint circular, which was solely related to the pay award last year was clear that the pay award applies to ‘…local salaries and day rates for individuals derived from the JNC arrangements’.    
  9. Should your authority wish to comment upon the claim it would be very helpful if it could do so by responding to the current survey. If your authority has not received the survey request, which went to your workforce data contact, please email matt.vincent@local.gov.uk and we can arrange for a link to be forwarded to the appropriate person. The survey, which also seeks your views on costs of the coroners’ service and whether they should be a matter for the Ministry of Justice, closes on 9 September.

Yours faithfully,

Gill Gittins
Assistant Management Side Secretary
JNC for Coroners

workforce team - logo for coroners letter

MS J KEARSLEY  
HER MAJESTY'S SENIOR CORONER
MS C McKENNA
HER MAJESTY'S AREA CORONER  
County of Greater Manchester
North District

HM CORONER’S COURT
Floors 2 & 3 
Newgate House, Newgate
Rochdale, OL16 1At
Tel 01706 924815
Fax 0844 9632383
Email: Coroners.Office@Rochdale.gov.uk

Sarah Ward
Management Side Secretary 
Local Government Association 

22 August 2022

Dear Sarah,

CORONER’S PAY 2022

The Local Government Committee (“LGC”) of the Coroners Society of England and Wales (“CSEW”) have had the opportunity of meeting to discuss salary considerations for the forthcoming financial year, April 2022-March 2023.

I am writing to set out our proposal for an increase in Coroner salaries for the aforementioned period.  

You will recall in our negotiations last year, we acknowledged the unexpected impact the pandemic had had on public sector finance. Whilst we appreciate local authorities will face continuing challenges this must now be considered alongside other competing issues which Coroners are facing. Over the course of the last 2 years Coroners have faced unprecedented burdens and challenges in the continued provision of the service.  

Workload and new ways of working post pandemic 

Like many of the frontline services, including the Courts and tribunal judiciary, coroners have worked tirelessly over the last 2 years to ensure the continued provision of a service for the bereaved; including re-organising courts, office work and introducing new technologies. In 2020 32,000 Inquests were opened, an increase of 7 per cent on the previous year.  Further, despite the challenges with the pandemic there was only a 1 per cent decrease in the number of Inquest conclusions.  

When consideration is given to the role coroners had in the emergency preparations throughout 2020 this achievement is remarkable. Many coroners took the lead in rearranging working practices with key agencies such as the hospitals, police and others. In addition, many coroners led their local authorities in terms of understanding the impact on resource needs and staff. 

The transition to hearing remote courts was implemented in the Coroners’ Service, which allowed for efficient and continued use of court time. There are ongoing challenges which coroners will be faced with including full remote public galleries and the requirement to reach judicial decisions regarding the right to remote observation.

For those coroner areas who have a significant number of jury Inquests, coroners continue to work expeditiously in order to reduce any backlog.

Retention/recruitment

You may be aware of recruitment and retention issues across various sectors of the judiciary.. Indeed, in order to help address recruitment issues, the Government implemented for some posts a recruitment and retention allowance until a long-term pensions solution could be implemented. 

Recent recruitment processes have highlighted a significant concern in the number of applicants for full-time Coronial appointments.  
Figures demonstrating this for Senior and Area Coroner appointments can be provided, demonstrating the fact they are low. 

However, these statistics do not tell the whole story. There is a growing concern as to the quality of candidates who are applying for positions, including fee-paid positions.  Within each geographical area there are an extremely limited number of individuals who would, arguably, meet the essential criteria for senior and area coroner roles.  In some recent processes candidates from out of the area who would have progressed to the last two, are taking the decision to withdraw their application by reason of the realities and challenges, either of moving or of achieving an acceptable work/life balance, whilst commuting long distances or staying away during the week. The impact of these factors is to reduce the already low number of applicants yet further.

In addition some coroner areas do not have enough Assistant/Area coroners to draw upon for future succession planning and as indicated individuals are becoming increasingly unwilling to relocate so there are real concerns that the future pool of talent in certain areas will diminish over time.

Whilst it is recognised coroners are not included in the reviews undertaken by the Senior Salaries Review Board (“SSRB”) we would argue strongly that the same issues as set out by the SSRB in respect of difficulties in retention of other judicial offices, applies equally to coroners.

In the major review in 2018 the SSRB also highlighted the issue of unrewarded leadership in the judiciary. An allowance of 4 per cent (taxable not non-pensionable was set).  Within the coroners service many coroners take on extra responsibilities and leadership roles for no extra remuneration.

Changes to the Law 

Key pieces of legislation and case law have impacted directly on the work of coroners.

The Supreme Court decision in the case of Maughan changed the standard of proof which coroners are required to reach in order to return a conclusion of unlawful killing. Unlawful killing can now be returned on the balance of probabilities. This  is a substantial deviation from the previous position and in practical terms has had an impact on the investigations following a death, as well as the complexity and length of Inquests. Not to mention the potential ramifications for Interested Persons.  

The effect of changes to the Judicial Pension 

The most significant change and impact for coroners has been the recent changes to the Judicial Pensions. The Ministry of Justice Evidence Pack on Judicial pay 2022/23 dated the 23 February 2022. These changes have, in effect, been the Government response to addressing the issues of recruitment and retention.

You will be aware the coroners are considered part of the judicial family albeit there is an anomaly in respect of the statutory nature of the funding of the service which lies with local authorities.

The main changes to the new Judicial Pension scheme include:

a) Tax-unregistered, where pensions accrued will not count either towards annual or lifetime allowances. 
b) No service cap, where, unlike some previous schemes, there will no longer be a 20- year service cap for members. 
c)  Defined benefit, career average scheme. 
d) Annual accrual rate of 2.5 per cent of pensionable earnings. 
e) A uniform contribution rate of 4.26 per cent of pensionable earnings. 
f) Linked to the state pension age.

Going forward the fact that judicial pensions are no longer subject to the £40,000 annual allowance means they do not have the annual tax burden but receive the full benefit of any increase in their pension benefits without an additional tax burden. 

We would invite the LGA to consider this issue which is likely to be a main feature of future negotiations and we would welcome any constructive suggestions as to how this issue could be tackled.

Conclusion and salary 

In light of the above our proposal is for a 8% salary increase backdated to the 1 April 2022.  However, we would strongly be of the view that this should be worded not simply so as to incorporate basic salary. You will be aware that a number of coroners have negotiated payments for their non-statutory out of hours work.  We would propose that the wording of any agreement be consistent with that used in JNC 63 ie;

A review has now taken place and the JNC has reached the following agreement, to apply a 8 per cent uplift on ‘all local salaries and day rates’ with effect from 1st April 2022 respectively. 

Yours faithfully

Joanne Kearsley
HM Senior Coroner