What is a coroner?
Understanding the role of a coroner
When someone dies unexpectedly, the Coroner will be notified and will begin to investigate the death.
The Coroner is an Independent judicial office holder appointed directly by the Crown but funded by the local authority, who investigates any sudden or unexplained deaths.
When a death is sudden or unexplained it must be reported to the Coroner in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, in Scotland the Procurator Fiscal does that job.
The Coroner must be informed when:
- Death was sudden, unexplained or by suspicious circumstances.
- The deceased has been ill but was not treated by a Doctor.
- The Doctor attending the deceased has not seen them within 14 days before or after their death.
- Death occurred during an operation or before the individual recovered from the effects of anaesthesia.
- Death may have resulted from an industrial injury or disease, or by accident, violence, abortion, neglect or any kind of poisoning.
- The death took place in police custody, in prison or other type of state detention.
Who informs the Coroner?
When death occurs in any of these circumstances, it is usually a Police Officer who reports it to the Coroner. It may also be reported by a Doctor called to the scene if the death was sudden or accidental, or by a Doctor who was treating the deceased if the death was unexpected. The Coroner may also be informed by the Registrar.
How does this affect the funeral arrangements?
Funeral arrangements can be made, but the Registrar cannot register the death until the Coroner has completed his/her enquiries. These enquiries can take some time, so the Coroner will have to be contacted before a funeral date can be confirmed.
What does the Coroner do?
The Coroner’s task is to identify cause of death. If the Coroner can establish that the death was due to natural causes, and if there is a Doctor who is able to issue a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death, you can then make an appointment with the Register Office to register the death, and no investigation will take place.
If the Coroner is not able to determine that the death was due to natural causes then the Coroner will proceed with an investigation into the cause of death, which may include a post-mortem examination and possibly an inquest.
The Coroner decides whether or not a post-mortem is needed. Wherever possible their office will, on request, tell you when and where an examination will be performed. If the post-mortem has shown the cause of death to be due to natural causes the Coroner may decide that his/her investigation is complete. The Coroner will release your relative’s body into the care of a named Funeral Director and issue a document to the Registrar, enabling you to register the death.
If, after the post-mortem, the cause of death is still unknown, the Coroner will decide to carry out an inquest. Find out more in our article - What is an Inquest.