When a Coroner takes jurisdiction over a death, many worries and concerns are raised by the family. The work of the Coroner is often unknown and, for many, a complex involvement. The following will hopefully answer some of your questions, although if you still require further clarification, please do not hesitate to speak with a member of our family.
Who are the Coroners?
Coroners are independent judicial officers in England and Wales who must follow laws that apply to Coroners and inquests. Each Coroner has a deputy and one of them must be available at all times to deal with matters relating to the inquests and post mortems.
What do Coroners do?
Coroners inquire into deaths reported to them which appear to be violent, unnatural, or of sudden and unknown cause. The Coroner will seek to establish the medical cause of death; if the cause remains in doubt after a post mortem, an inquest will be held.
Taking the body abroad or bringing it back to this country
If you wish to take the body abroad, you must give notice to the Coroner in writing. The Coroner will tell you within four days whether further enquiries are needed. If you wish to bring the body back to England or Wales, the Coroner may need to be involved. In certain circumstances, an inquest may be necessary. Removing human remains overseas from Scotland will be in line with current Scottish law and we can guide you should you need help.
Are all deaths reported to the Coroner?
No In most cases, a GP or hospital doctor can certify the medical cause of death and the death can be registered by the Registrar of Births and Deaths in the usual way. However, registrars must report deaths to the Coroner in certain circumstances. For example: if a doctor cannot give a proper certificate of a cause of death; if the death occurred during operation; if the death was due to industrial disease; or if the death was unnatural or due to violence, or in other suspicious circumstances.
What is a Post Mortem examination?
A post mortem is a medical examination of a body carried out for the Coroner by a pathologist of the Coroner’s choice. Coroners will give notice of the need for a post mortem unless this is not practicable or would unduly delay the examination. The consent of the next-of-kin is not required for a Coroner’s post mortem, but the next-of-kin are entitled to be represented at the examination by a doctor of their choice.
When can the funeral be held?
If a post mortem reveals that the death was due to natural causes and that an inquest is not needed, the Coroner will release the body and you can register the death. The funeral can then take place. If there is to be an inquest, the Coroner can normally issue a burial order or cremation certificate after the post mortem is completed. If charges have been brought against somebody for causing the death, it may be necessary to have a second post mortem or further investigations, and the release of the body and the funeral arrangements will be delayed.
Issue of the Death Certificate
If the death was due to natural causes, the Coroner will inform the Registrar and the death can be registered and a death certificate issued. But, if there is to be an inquest, an Interim Certificate of the fact of death can be issued by the Coroner to assist in the administration of the estate. When the inquest is completed, the Coroner will notify the Registrar. A death certificate can then be obtained.
What is an Inquest?
An inquest is an inquiry into who has died and how, when, and where the death occurred. An inquest is not a trial; the Coroner must not blame anyone for the death. An inquest is usually opened primarily to record that a death has occurred and to identify the dead person. It will then be adjourned until any police enquiries and the Coroner’s investigations are completed. The full inquest can then be resumed.
Attendance at an Inquest
When the Coroner’s investigations are complete, a date for the resumed inquest is set and the people entitled to be notified will be told if their details are known to the Coroner. Inquests are open to the public and journalists are usually present.
Witnesses called to give evidence
Coroners decide who should give evidence as a witness. Anyone who believes they may help can offer to give evidence by informing the Coroner. Anyone who believes a particular witness should be called should inform the Coroner. Witnesses can be compelled to attend.
Inquests with a Jury
The inquest will be held with a jury if the death occurs in prison, in custody, at work or if further deaths may occur in similar circumstances. In these cases, the Coroner decides matters of law and the jury decides the verdict.
Questioning of witnesses. Inquests do not determine blame and the verdict must not identify someone as having criminal or civil liability. Possible verdicts include natural causes, accident, suicide, unlawful or lawful killing, industrial disease, and open verdicts (where there is insufficient evidence for any other verdict). The Coroner may also report the death to any appropriate person or authority if action is needed to prevent more deaths in similar circumstances.