Why is the Coroner Involved?
The money raised from the CRY Commando Challenge was used to circulate all Coroners with our Brochure and Counselling Leaflet and we have had a very positive response to the information we sent. For many, the function of the Coroner is shrouded in mystery and we are very grateful for this article, written especially for CRY by one of the Coroners explaining their role in greater detail.
Any death of which the cause is not immediately known had by law to be reported to the Coroner. This is in addition to deaths that are due to non-natural causes. One third of all deaths are now reported to the Coroner.
The Coroner’s Officer will make enquiries. He (or she) may be a civilian or a serving police officer. He needs to find out what has happened, including the medical and other background. Co-operate with him. The purpose of gathering this information is to brief the Pathologist, who carries out a post mortem examination at the direction of the Coroner, to establish what, in medical terms, is the cause of death. The Pathologist reports his findings back to the Coroner.
It may be necessary for more detailed tests and examinations to be carried out. This can involve small samples, or even entire organs, having to be kept or sent away for examination at a specialist centre.
If it can be established, clearly and reasonably quickly, that the death is not due to some non-natural occurrence or outside influence such as injury, drugs, poisoning, etc., but is due to a cause – however unexpected or rare – that arises from spontaneously occurring physiology, then the death will be certified by the Coroner as due to natural causes. That cause will be stated and documents will be issued to enable the death to be registered and the funeral to go ahead.
If the cause remains uncertain, there will be an Inquest at which evidence will be taken. The Coroner decides what evidence to call but anyone can suggest likely sources of evidence. Close relatives can attend the Inquest and ask questions. The Coroner will decide what is the cause of death – in some cases it has to be recorded as ‘unascertained’.
The family GP can obtain a copy of the post mortem report(s). This may help with on-going care of other members of the family.
Close relatives can obtain copies of the post mortem report(s) and the evidence given at an Inquest, but there is a charge.
This is only a brief outline of how the Coroner works – circumstances will vary. Keep in touch with the Coroner’s office. Bear in mind, by law, his function is limited to establishing the cause of death, and does not extend to research, but there is nothing to prevent relatives from using a Coroner’s findings to help others to conduct research.
A Coroner (wished to remain anonymous) November 1997