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Students: Death

Question for Ministry of Justice

UIN 170732, tabled on 21 March 2023

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of potential merits of introducing a requirement for coroners to inform universities of the death of a student enrolled on a course.

Answered on

27 March 2023

Every student death is a tragedy. Where a student’s death is investigated by the coroner, it may be appropriate for the higher education provider to have “interested person” status in the investigation and, where this is the case, would be provided with the Record of Inquest which includes the cause of death. Inquest hearings are public and open for anyone to attend.

In addition, coroners have a statutory duty to issue a report to prevent future deaths (a PFD report) where they consider that an investigation has identified circumstances which should be addressed to prevent or reduce the risk of future deaths. The report must be made to a person or organisation whom the coroner believes could have the power to take action, which may include higher education providers, and recipients are obliged by law to respond.

As coroners are independent judicial office holders, the way in which they conduct their investigations is entirely a matter for them. It would therefore be inappropriate to impose a duty on them to provide information to higher education providers in relation to individual student suicide cases. Moreover, coronial investigations are limited fact-finding exercises, and it cannot be guaranteed that consistent and comprehensive information on a deceased person’s background will be made available to the coroner in every case.

The Government expects all higher education providers to take suicide prevention very seriously, providing information with place for students to find help, actively identifying students at risk, and intervening with swift support when needed. Where a tragedy does occur, this must be treated with the utmost sensitivity by a provider. This approach to suicide prevention is set out in the Suicide Safer Universities framework, led by Universities UK and Papyrus and supported by Government. Supporting mental health and ensuring action is taken to prevent future tragedies is a high priority for Government. That is why we have targeted funding at mental health support measure including, partnerships between higher education providers and NHS services to provide better pathways of care for university students.

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