For deaths reported to the coroner where the deceased is not already in hospital, normally the police will attend the location where the deceased has passed away or where the deceased has been discovered.
At this stage if there is any question that the death has been as a result of a crime, the Coroner will be notified but their investigation will be halted to make way for a police investigation and any criminal proceedings. After a criminal court case it is the Coroners decision as to whether they open an inquest or not, and they are not obligated to do so, but if they do the verdict cannot be inconsistent with that of the Criminal Court Verdict.
The deceased, that is not part of any criminal investigation, will be transported to the local hospital mortuary where the identification of the deceased can be ascertained if it hasn’t already and a post-mortem examination can be carried out if it is required.
Aside from the post-mortem examination the Coroner carries out other means of investigation and this is normally done by Coroners Officers who are commonly employed by the local authority but in some areas can be employed by the police service. Coroners Officers interview witnesses, take statements, gather relevant information and liaise with the deceased’s family. Coroners also have the authority to access the medical records, while the deceased medical records are still confidential after death, the Coroner can access records that are pertinent to their inquiry.
Once the investigations and examinations of the deceased have taken place the Coroners Office will decided if there is to be an Inquest. An inquest is essentially an inquiry and described as a fact finding mission to determine, who has died, where they died and how they died. The Coroner does not look to apportion fault or blame, does not decide civil or criminal liability and can not refer cases to other courts. However, while criminal court cases are usually heard prior to an inquest (should there be one), any civil claims being brought are usually filed in the civil courts after an inquest as the findings may be referred to.
At this stage in most cases the Coroner will release body of the deceased and provide the relevant paperwork to enable a funeral to take place and the necessary functions of dealing with the deceased’s estate.
The Coroner is mindful of the impact that their investigations have on the families and do try to hold inquests within 6 months of the death, however if this is not possible the Coroner will inform the family and explain why more time is needed for the investigation.
Inquests have to take place in cases where:
- The cause of death is unknown after the post-mortem examination has taken place
- The Coroner suspects the deceased has died due to violence or unnatural causes
- The death has occurred in custody or state detention (prison, police custody, detained under the Mental Health Act)
- As a result of an accident while at work or work related injury
An inquest is a hearing held in Coroners Court with or without a jury. Jury inquests are mandatory for cases where the death: has occurred in state detention, is a work related accident, injury, or notifiable disease. deaths concerning public safety, or if the Coroner decides that a jury would be in the public interest.
An inquest will call witnesses to give evidence and evidence can be given in writing or orally. Witnesses that are called may be family members (most inquests will normally call a family member as a witness), medical witnesses (Doctors and medical professionals involved in the deceased’s care prior to death or the Pathologist who carried out the post-mortem), non-medical witnesses (non-medical professionals linked to the deceased) and expert witnesses (professionals who have been instructed by the Coroner to give an opinion statement).
At the end of the inquest the Coroner will conclude with their findings which is known as a verdict and is now also referred to as finding of fact. The verdict is then part of the public record.
Once the inquest is completed the Coroners Court will normally register the death, so the family will not need to make an appointment with the registrar. After the death has been registered then the family can obtain copies of the the Death Certificate from the registrar.