What is a Coroner?

It is in the general interest of the community that any sudden or unexplained death should be investigated. Coroners, who are experienced doctors or lawyers are responsible for investigating the circumstances surrounding any death which occurs under unusual circumstances, or is thought to be due to certain industrial diseases.

When is a death reported to the Coroner?

This happens when:

  • No doctor has treated the deceased during the last illness
  • The doctor attending the patient did not see the deceased within 14 days before death
  • The death occurred during an operation or before the recovery from the effect of an anaesthetic
  • The death was sudden and unexplained or attended by suspicious circumstances
  • Whilst in the custody of the police or in prison
  • The death might be due to an industrial injury or disease, or to accident, violence, neglect or to any kind of poisoning

The coroner may request that a pathologist performs a post-mortem examination of the deceased (an autopsy) in order to look for signs of disease or injury that may account for the death. The post-mortem examination will take place at either Manchester Royal Infirmary, Royal Oldham Hospital or Salford Royal Hospital depending on where the death occurred.

Additionally, a coroner may consider it necessary to hold a formal enquiry into the individual case, called an inquest.

What is the purpose of an inquest?

An inquest is a fact-finding enquiry, with the sole objective of determining the answers to the following questions:

  • Who is it that has died?
    When and where did the death occur?
  • How did the determined cause of death come about?
  • What was the nature of the death, and what was the nature of the contributory events preceding it?

Can a funeral be held before the completion of an inquest?

Under normal circumstances, it is possible to hold a funeral, with either a burial or a cremation, before the formal completion of the inquest. The coroner will issue the relevant documentation permitting the funeral director to undertake proper disposal of the body.

However, there may be some delays and restrictions in certain types of cases, particularly those relating to cases of unlawful killing, homicide, road traffic accidents etc. A coroner’s officer and your funeral director will be able to advise you on the individual circumstances of your particular case.

An inquest is usually opened in the first few days following the death, in order to record the fact of death, and is then subsequently adjourned. The inquest is re-opened and completed once all necessary police enquiries and coroner’s investigations have been completed. An inquest is not a criminal trial. It is an inquiry into the facts surrounding a death. It is not the job of the coroner to place blame or responsibility for the death, as a trial would do. However, the coroner does have the power to investigate not just the main cause of death, but also “any acts or omissions which directly led to the cause of death”.