The coroner is a doctor or lawyer responsible for investigating deaths.
The doctor may report the death to the coroner if it resulted from or occurred in any of these circumstances:
- the deceased was not attended by a doctor during the last illness or the doctor treating the deceased had not seen him or her either after death or in the 14 days before the death
- the death was violent or unnatural or occurred under suspicious circumstances
- the cause of death is not known or is uncertain
- the death occurred while a patient was undergoing an operation or did not recover from the anaesthetic
- the death was caused by an industrial disease
- the death occurred in prison or in police custody.
The coroner may be the only person who can certify the cause of death. The doctor will write on the formal notice that the death has been referred to the coroner.
If you want advice or information about a death which has been reported to the coroner, contact the coroner’s officer. You can get the address from the police station or, if death was in hospital, the hospital official dealing with deaths.
Coroner’s post mortem
The coroner may arrange for a post-mortem examination of the body. The consent of the relatives is not needed, but they are entitled to be represented at the examination by a doctor.
If the post mortem shows that death was due to natural causes, the coroner will issue a notification by the coroner (the pink form 100), which gives the cause of death so that the death can be registered. The coroner usually sends the form direct to the registrar, but may give it to you to deliver.
If the body is to be cremated the coroner will give you the certificate for cremation (form E) which allows cremation to take place.
An inquest is an inquiry into the medical cause and circumstances of a death. It is held in public, sometimes with a jury. It is up to the coroner to organise the enquiry in a way to best serve the public interest and the interests of the relatives.
The coroner will hold an inquest if the death:
- was violent or unnatural
- was caused by an industrial disease
- occurred in prison
- or if the cause of death remains uncertain after post-mortem examination.
Coroners hold inquests in these circumstances even if the death occurred abroad (and the body is returned to Britain). If a body has been destroyed or is unrecoverable a coroner can hold an inquest by order of the Secretary of State if death is likely to have occurred in or near a coroner’s jurisdiction.
If an inquest is held, the coroner must inform, amongst others, the following people:
- the married partner of the deceased
- the nearest relative (if different)
- the personal representative (if different from above).
Relatives can attend an inquest and ask questions of witnesses, but they may only ask questions about the medical cause and circumstances of the death.
It may be important to have a lawyer to represent you if the death was caused by a road accident, or an accident at work, or other circumstances which could lead to a claim for compensation. Legal aid for representation at inquests is only available in exceptional circumstances.
If the enquiries may take some time, ask the coroner to give you a letter confirming the death. You can use this letter for Social Security and National Insurance (NI) purposes.
The coroner may give you an order for burial (form 101) or a certificate for cremation (form E) so that the funeral can take place. This can usually be done before the inquest is completed, provided the body is not required for further examination.
The coroner will also send a certificate after inquest (form 99 (rev)), stating the cause of death, to the registrar. This allows the death to be registered.