The Coroners' Court
The coroner is a doctor or lawyer or both responsible for investigating deaths in particular situations and can also arrange for a post-mortem examination of the body, if necessary. Any Coroner appointed after July 2014 has to be legally qualified.
Coroners are Judicial Officers responsible for investigating violent, unnatural or sudden deaths where the cause is unknown.
An Inquest is to determine who the deceased person was, how, when and where the individual died but not why. It is an enquiry to ascertain the facts concerning a death and does not apportion blame on any individual.
A Coroner will hold an Inquest with a Jury in certain circumstances.
A Coroner’s Officer is responsible for investigating the cause of death and presenting the evidence in Court on the day of the Inquest.
When a death is reported to the coroner
If death occurs in any of the following circumstances, the doctor may report it to the coroner:
- after an accident or injury
- following an industrial disease
- during a surgical operation
- before recovery from an anaesthetic
- if the cause of death is unknown
- if the death was violent or unnatural - for example, suicide, accident or drug or alcohol overdose
- if the death was sudden and unexplained - for instance, a sudden infant death (cot death)
- In addition to this, if the deceased was not seen by the doctor issuing the medical certificate after he or she died, or during the 14 days before the death, the death must be reported to the coroner.
Anyone who is concerned about the cause of a death can inform a coroner about it, but in most cases a death will be reported to the coroner by a doctor or the police.
What happens once a death is reported to the coroner
The coroner may be the only person able to certify the cause of death. The doctor will write on the Formal Notice that the death has been referred to the coroner. The Formal Notice is issued to you by the attending doctor and is a document which explains how you register the death.
The coroner will then decide whether there should be further investigations into the death - and the registrar cannot register the death until notified of the coroner's decision. This means that the funeral will usually also be delayed. Where a post-mortem has taken place, the coroner must give permission for cremation.
In some cases, the coroner will need to order a post-mortem. This is a medical examination of the body to find out more about the medical cause of death. In these cases, the body will be taken to hospital for this to be carried out.
You do not have the right to object to a post-mortem ordered by the coroner, but you should tell the coroner if you have religious or other strong objections. In cases where a death is reported to a coroner because the person had not seen a doctor in the previous 14 days (28 in Northern Ireland) the coroner will consult with the deceased person's doctor and will usually not need to order a post-mortem.
If a post-mortem shows that death was due to natural causes, the coroner will issue a notification of this (called a Pink Form B - Form 100), so that the death can be registered. The notification is usually sent directly to the registrar, but in some cases, it may be given to you to deliver. If the body is to be cremated, the coroner will also give you the form which allows this to take place (called Certificate of Coroner - Cremation Form 6).
Download a Guide to Coroner Services: booklet here
Download Coroner Investigations - a short guide: leaflet here
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