Coroner’s call stands

Chloe FraserSound Telegraph
Teenager Cohen Fink, who tragically took his own life last year.
Camera IconTeenager Cohen Fink, who tragically took his own life last year. Credit: Family photo/Family photo

Attorney General John Quigley has denied a local family’s request to overturn the Coroner’s decision not to hold an inquest into the death of their 17-year-old son.

Pamella and Chris Fink say their son Cohen, pictured left, who took his own life on June 4, 2019, was “tremendously let down” by the education system, which “should have been supporting him and looking after his wellbeing”.

The ATAR student at Warnbro Community High School, had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety about 12 months before he died. His parents say the school failed to identify him as an “at-risk student” or manage his needs after he provided troubling answers to an exam.

Palmos Legal initially wrote to the State Coroner on November 7 last year, on behalf of the Fink family, advocating for an inquest. But the State Coroner refused the request on January 2.

The Coroner said while the school could have “behaved better”, its actions were “appropriate” given Cohen “did not exhibit the kinds of behaviours” that warranted him being considered “at-risk”.

Their fight was then left in the hands of Mr Quigley after the family sought support from shadow attorney-general Michael Mischin.

Mr Mischin said despite the Coroner’s refusal, he believed there were questions about the lead-up to Cohen’s death that remained unanswered in the Coroner’s response.

Mr Mischin wrote to Mr Quigley on February 21 asking that he direct the Coroner to review the decision.

But in August Mr Quigley said he was yet to make a decision and was still “awaiting legal advice”.

The attorney-general finally wrote to the family on October 27, advising he did not have the power to overrule a Coroner’s prior decision not to hold an inquest.

Mr and Mrs Fink said his decision was “extremely disappointing and frustrating” given the length of time they had been waiting for an answer.

Attorney General John Quigley says he can't overrule the Coroner's decision not to hold an inquest into the suicide of Cohen Fink.
Camera IconAttorney General John Quigley says he can't overrule the Coroner's decision not to hold an inquest into the suicide of Cohen Fink. Credit: The West Australian

In a statement released last week Mr Quigley, pictured above, said he had received several requests from families for inquests to be held into the death of their loved ones and he had sought advice on whether he should grant those requests.

Legal advice from WA solicitor-general Joshua Thomson found the attorney-general did not have the power to overrule a decision made by the Coroner.

"The legal advice is clear; the Attorney General should only exercise the power under the (Coroners) Act in limited circumstances and the power should not be used effectively to overturn a decision of a Coroner not to investigate a death,” he said.

Mr Quigley said the WA Government would instead amend the Coroners Act to allow more time for grieving families to appeal to the Supreme Court if they disagree with a Coroner’s decision.

“An extension of time to appeal will be included in a package of wide-ranging reforms to the Coroners Act that are already in the drafting process,” Mr Quigley said.

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