A coroner is an independent judicial office holder, appointed by a local council. They usually have a legal background and will also be familiar with medical terminology.
Coroners investigate deaths that 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.
The purpose of the investigation is to find out, for the benefit of bereaved people and for official records, who has died, how, when and where.
If an investigation is determined necessary, a pathologist will normally carry out a post-mortem examination of the body. Where the post-mortem identifies the cause of death, the coroner will send a form to the Registrar of Births and Deaths stating the cause of death. The coroner must release the body as soon as possible, after which a funeral can be arranged.
If it was not possible to find out the cause of death from the post-mortem examination or the death is found to be unnatural, the coroner has to hold an inquest. An inquest is a
fact-finding process, held in public court by the coroner in order to establish who died and how, when and where the death occurred. The inquest will be held as soon as possible and normally within 6 months of the death if at all possible.
If the death occurred in prison or custody or if it resulted from an accident at work, there will usually be a jury at the inquest.
The coroner (or jury where there is one) comes to a conclusion at the end of the inquest. This includes the legal ‘determination’, which states who died, where, when and how. The coroner or jury also makes ‘findings’ to allow the cause of death to be registered. When recording the cause the coroner or jury may use one of the following terms:
- accident or misadventure
- alcohol/drug related
- industrial disease
- lawful killing
- unlawful killing
- natural causes
- road traffic collision
The coroner or jury may also make a brief ‘narrative’ conclusion setting out the facts surrounding the death in more detail and explaining the reasons for the decision.
If a person doesn’t agree with the Coroner’s conclusion, they may challenge their decision or conclusion but they should do this as soon as possible as for some challenges there is a three-month limit.
As you can see:
- the coroner does not attend a crime scene to collect forensic evidence,
- nor do they carry out a post-mortem
so don’t be caught out letting your fictional coroner do any of these things.
The latest Coroner’s statistics can be found HERE
The Coroners’ Society of England and Wale can be found HERE
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