Coroners

What is a Coroner and what do they do?

 

A coroner is an independent judicial officer who has been appointed by a local council. Coroners usually have a legal background of a solicitor or barrister or a qualified medical background as they must be familiar with medical terminology.

 

A coroner will investigate deaths which have been reported to them if it appears that:

  • the death was violent or unnatural
  • the cause of death is unknown, or
  • the person died in prison, police custody, or another type of state detention.

 

In all the above cases the coroner must investigate to find out ‘who has died, how they died, when they died and where’. This is for the benefit of the deceased family and friends and for official records.

Post-mortem examination

 

If a coroner has decided an investigation is necessary because he cannot ascertain the cause of death from speaking with medical staff alone then a pathologist will be ordered to carry out a post-mortem examination of the body.

 

The results will then be passed over to the coroner who will advise the family, state the cause of death, ask the family to register the death and proceed with the funeral arrangements. The coroner has a duty to release the body as soon as possible, currently we must advise families that there should be a period of seven days allowed, where it is understood the funeral will not take place. I think it is good for a family to meet up with their funeral director as soon as possible to start to go through the arrangements as it can be a very unsettling time waiting for answers.

 

Coroner’s Inquest

 

If after the examination has taken place it is not possible to find out the cause of death or the death is determined to be ‘unnatural’ the coroner will hold an inquest. An inquest is a public court hearing held by the coroner in order to establish who has died and how they died and when and where the death occurred.

 

The inquest is usually held within 6 months of the death occurring, we understand that this is a very anxious time for families as it can feel like there is no closure until the case is reopened in court. The funeral will have taken place and interim death certificates will have been produced by the coroner to allow the families to look after their loved one’s affairs.

 

If the death occurred in prison or in custody or as a result of an accident, there would usually be a jury present at the inquest.

 

At the end of an inquest

 

The coroner will have reached a conclusion at the end of an inquest and will have decided upon the legal ‘determination’ of how that person passed away. When recording the cause of such deaths the coroner may use one of the following terms:

  • accident or misadventure
  • alcohol or drug related
  • industrial disease
  • lawful killing
  • unlawful killing
  • natural causes
  • open verdict
  • road traffic collision
  • stillbirth
  • suicide

 

There may also be a brief narrative conclusion setting out the facts surrounding the death in more detail and explaining the reason for the decision made.

 

It is not necessary in most coroner’s court cases to instruct a solicitor to represent you, although you may do so if you wish. An inquest is a fact-finding process and the coroner will ensure that the process is fair and thorough, and that your questions about the causes of death are answered.

 

You can challenge the decision of a coroner and if you are wanting to do so that it must be within a 3-month period from the time of the court’s decision being made.

 

The Coroner will also:

  • Give free of charge, an order for Burial or Cremation
  • Send a Certificate (After Inquest) to the Registrar, stating the cause of death
  • Give, usually as a matter of course, a letter confirming the fact of death for Social Security and insurance benefit purposes
  • Give permission for the body to be removed out of England and Wales – more information on repatriation
  • Pay for the removal of the deceased from the place of death to the mortuary.

 

Local Coroners Offices

For a list of local Coroner Offices please click here.

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