What is a coroner and what do they do?
Coroners are appointed by local councils to investigate deaths where the cause is unknown, where there is reason to think the death may not be due to natural causes, or which need an inquiry for some other reason.
What does a coroner do?
Deaths are usually reported to a coroner by the police, registrars of deaths and doctors. However, this process only applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
A coroner is typically appointed by the local authority to investigate a death when:
- The cause of death is unknown
- The death was sudden, violent or unnatural
- The person died in prison or custody
- The identity of the person who has died is uncertain or unknown
- A Medical Certificate of Cause of Death isn’t available
It is the coroner’s duty to identify how, when and where the person died for official records, as well as for the benefit of the bereaved.
What happens in Scotland?
In Scotland, there is no system of coroners’ inquests. Instead, sudden or unexpected deaths are reported to the procurator fiscal and dealt with by Fatal Accident Inquiries.
When a death is reported, the procurator fiscal will investigate the circumstances of the death, attempt to find out the cause of the death and consider whether criminal proceedings or a Fatal Accident Inquiry is appropriate.
What you need to do during the investigation
Your role during a coroner or procurator fiscal investigation is very important and it’s your responsibility to co-operate fully and provide all information that is relevant to the investigation.
If you have any concerns or worries about the death, please inform the coroner’s office or procurator fiscal’s office. Please ensure not to share any confidential information you are told during the investigation.
What happens in a post-mortem?
In some cases, the coroner may decide a post-mortem is needed to find out how the person died. It is an examination of a body after death and is typically carried out by pathologists.
If the post-mortem shows that the deceased died of natural causes, the coroner will issue you paperwork to register the death. You will usually be able to view your loved one after a post-mortem, should you wish to do so.
However, if the post-mortem shows an unnatural or unknown cause of death, the coroner may open an inquest.
What happens at an inquest?
If the cause of death is still unknown, the coroner will hold an inquest; a fact-finding legal investigation which is open to the public. During an inquest, evidence will be reviewed to determine how the person died.
Unfortunately, an inquest can take weeks or even months depending on the complexity of the case and, until it is complete, you will not be able to register the death.
Will the funeral be delayed?
We understand how distressing these investigations can be for family and friends arranging the funeral, especially if you wish to say goodbye to help with the grieving process.
Whilst a post-mortem examination can delay funeral arrangements, an inquest should not unduly delay your loved one’s funeral.
If you do find yourself in this situation, our caring professionals will be able to give you the bereavement support you need during such a difficult and upsetting time.