The Coroner

There are certain types of death which often get referred to a Coroner for further investigation.  When this happens, it can be very stressful and frightening for the family of the deceased.  To help our clients understand this process, we have provided you with as much information as we can.  If you have any further concerns or queries after reading this information, please don’t hesitate to call us.

What does the Coroner do?

It is in the general interest of the community that any sudden or unexplained death should be investigated. Coroners, who are experienced doctors or lawyers, act as independent judicial officers in accordance with certain laws and rules of procedure.

When is a death reported to the Coroner?

This happens when:

  • no doctor has treated the deceased during the last illness
  • the doctor attending the patient did not see him or her within 14 days before death
  • the death occurred during an operation or before the recovery from the effect of an aesthetic
  • the death was sudden and unexplained or attended by suspicious circumstances
  • the death might be due to an industrial injury or disease, or to an accident, violence, neglect or to any kind of poisoning.

What will the Coroner do?

The Coroner may be able to ascertain that death was due to a natural cause and that there is a doctor who is able to certify the cause of death. If not, the body is removed for an examination. Often, this will reveal natural causes and no inquest will be held. The Coroner will notify the Registrar via a certificate to enable the relatives to register. At this stage, the Coroner, if required, can issue a certificate for cremation. Alternatively, the Registrar will issue a burial or cremation certificate before the funeral.

What if the death is not due to natural causes?

The Coroner is obliged to hold an inquest. This is normally held at Worthing Hospital or the Law Courts, Christchurch Road, Worthing.

Is the Inquest a trial?

No. An inquest is an enquiry which is held to establish facts such as the identity of the deceased, when, where and how the death occurred and to establish the particulars which have to be registered by the Registrar of Deaths. The Inquest does not allocate responsibility as a trial would do. In a few cases where the death might be due to murder, manslaughter or infanticide, the Coroner will notify the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Is there always a jury at the Inquest?

Not always but, if the death may have been caused by an accident or disease of which notice has to be given to the Government (e.g. Industrial Accident) or if the deceased died in prison, then there has to be a jury. In other cases, a jury may be summoned by a Coroner if he thinks it would be of assistance.

Must a witness attend?

Yes. The evidence of a witness may be vital in preventing injustice and penalties may be imposed for failure to attend. A witness may either be asked to attend the inquest or receive a formal summons to do so.

Who can question a witness at the Inquest?

Any person who has an interest may question a witness. Questions must be relevant, and incriminating questions may not be asked. This is something the Coroner will decide. There are no speeches, as the inquest is an enquiry and not a trial.

Can future deaths be prevented?

If the Inquiry discloses a state of affairs which might cause further deaths from the same cause, the Coroner can draw attention to this publicly and will also bring the matter to the attention of the appropriate authority.

Will the Inquest by reported in the papers?

All inquests, except those which involve National Security, are held in public and the press can be present. Everything has to be in the open although the Coroner knows that every death is a personal tragedy and tries to treat each one sympathetically. Every attempt is made to avoid upset but sometimes the reading out of personal material is unavoidable in the quest for the truth.

Can the funeral be held before the Inquest is over?

If an Inquest is held, the Coroner can give an order allowing burial or cremation of the body as soon as the necessary examination of the body has been completed, as long as no further tests are needed.

Can a Death Certificate be issued before an inquest is finished?

A Death Certificate will be issued by the Registrar on receipt of the necessary form from the Coroner. If the Inquiry is difficult, the Coroner will provide a letter explaining why the death cannot be Registered. This will usually be acceptable for the payment of insurance money and administration of the estate.

Does the Coroner have any other functions in relation to a death?

The Coroner must be notified in every case when a body is to be taken out of England or Wales. When a body is brought into England or Wales from another Country without a proper examination, the Coroner may be able to give some help

Can a report of the Inquest be obtained?

A person who has a proper interest in the inquiry may see the notes after the Inquest or may have a copy of the notes on payment of the prescribed fee.