A coroner is a doctor or lawyer appointed by a local authority to investigate certain deaths. In Northern Ireland, the Lord Chancellor appoints a coroner. A coroner is completely independent of the authority and has a separate office and staff. You will find the address of your local coroner’s office in the telephone directory.
A coroner can investigate a death if the body is in their district, even though the death took place somewhere else, for example, abroad.
A death must always be reported to a coroner in the following situations:-
- the person’s doctor had not seen them in the 14 days before they died or immediately afterwards (28 days in Northern Ireland)
- a doctor had not looked after, seen or treated the person during their last illness (in other words, death was sudden)
- the cause of death is unknown or uncertain
- the death was violent or unnatural (for example, suicide, accident or drug or alcohol overdose)
- the death was in any way suspicious
- the death took place during surgery or recovery from an anaesthetic
- the death took place in prison or police custody
- the death was caused by an industrial disease.
Anyone who is unhappy about the cause of a death can inform a coroner about it, but in most cases a death will be reported to a coroner by a doctor or the police.
In some cases the coroner will need to order a post-mortem, in which case 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 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 person’s GP and will usually not need to order a post-mortem.
For more information about post-mortems and your rights to know what happens with organs and tissue, go to the Human Tissue Authority website at www.hta.gov.uk.
A death cannot be registered until the coroner’s investigations are complete and a certificate has been issued allowing registration to take place. This means that the funeral will usually also be delayed. Where a post-mortem has taken place the coroner must give permission for cremation.
Information from: citizensadvice.org.uk