Frequently Asked Questions
Why is the coroner enquiring into a death?
A death can be reported to the Coroner for a number of reasons. The Coroner will then make enquiries into the death. Only a minority of deaths are reported to the coroner. In most cases, the deceased's own doctor or a hospital doctor is able to give a cause of death
Some examples of reasons for referring to the Coroner are:
- a doctor may not be sure of the cause of death or why the patient has died at an earlier date than predicted
- The death may have occurred in a manner that is not natural e.g. an overdose of drugs
- There may be violence associated with the death, either accidental, as in the case of a road death, or deliberate
Will there be an autopsy?
It is the coroner’s duty to find out the medical cause of death. On receiving a report, the coroner may decide that the death was natural and will authorise a doctor to sign a form stating, to the best of his information, what the medical cause of death was. Sometimes, although it is clear that the death was natural, there is not enough knowledge about the patient’s medical condition to say what the cause of death was. The coroner will then ask a pathologist to carry out, as soon as possible, an examination. If the examination, either known as an autopsy or as a post mortem examination (post mortem is Latin for “after death”) shows a medical cause of death and that cause was natural, there is seldom need for an inquest and the coroner will send a form to the Registrar of Deaths so that the death can be registered.
Will the funeral arrangements be delayed?
As soon as any autopsy has been completed and the medical cause of death known, the coroner notifies the Registrar of Deaths who will, if the death is natural, register the death and is able to issue a certificate authorising a burial. If a cremation is required, the coroner can issue a certificate authorising it. Even if the death is not natural so that an inquest has to be held, the coroner can, after formally opening and adjourning the inquest, issue either a burial or cremation certificate. These processes seldom take more than 48 hours, a period that is well within the normal period for arranging a funeral.
Can I register the death if an inquest is to be held?
Until the inquest has been completed, the Registrar of Deaths cannot issue a certificate as the conclusion of the inquest is not known. However the coroner issues an interim certificate of the fact of death, which enables progress to be made with the administration of the deceased’s affairs.
Why does it take such a long time between the inquest being opened and its conclusion?
Because full investigations take time, there may be a delay in completing the inquest. For example, a road death may involve taking statements from a number of witnesses, some of whom may not live locally. A report by an Accident Investigator may have to be prepared. An autopsy may not always reveal the cause of death and tissue samples may have to be examined at a laboratory. The tests and examinations can take 10 to 12 weeks or more. Whatever the reason for the delay, information regarding the inquest can be obtained either from this site or by way of direct communication from the coroner’s office
Where can I get further help and information?
This list is not fully comprehensive so do not hesitate to get in touch with the coroner’s office for further information and help. Please remember that the office is only open from 9.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. Monday to Friday so if you phone outside these hours, the information that you seek may not be available.