The death of a loved one is a painful and challenging experience. In some cases, this experience is made even harder, for example when a loved one passes unexpectedly or traumatically. In these cases, a coroner may be required to investigate the cause of death. These unexpected deaths are commonly referred to as ‘reportable deaths’ and will inevitably delay funerals, but not necessarily their planning.
A Coroner is a public official who carries out an independent investigation to determine the cause of a person's death. The Coroner performs a post mortem, or medical examination of the body. Each state and territory has their own coroner’s office and accompanying court which is in charge of investigating unexplained or ‘reportable deaths’.
These deaths commonly fall into the following categories:
- A death that appears to be unnatural, unexpected or violent
- A death occurring during anaesthesia
- A death while the person was being held in custody or care
- A death resulting from an accident
- A death where the person’s identity is unknown
- Any other circumstance that makes the death unexplained or unusual.
Although Police or Medical personnel usually contact the coroner’s office with a reportable death, everyone has the right to contact their offices directly.
When is an autopsy performed?
Not all reportable deaths undergo investigation by a coroner. However, if the coroner does decide to investigate further, they may choose to order an autopsy. An autopsy, also commonly referred to as a post-mortem examination, is a medical examination of the body performed by a forensic pathologist.
An autopsy commonly includes sampling for testing or surgical procedures. In spite of this, if you were planning to have an open casket at the funeral, you may still be able to do so.
What's a Coronial Inquest?
In some cases, an autopsy may highlight the need for further, formal investigations into the death of a loved one. In that case, the coroner will arrange a Coronial Inquest. Coronial Inquests involve studying all the evidence around a person’s death to discover the true cause and circumstances. They are conducted when the coroner has been unsuccessful in determining the cause of death or they believe more information will be discovered upon further investigation.
Depending on the complexity of the case, Coronial Inquests may take several weeks. The inquest involves a court hearing during which the coroner will hear evidence from a range of witnesses and experts, review phone recordings and written records, photos, videos and any other relevant evidence to help establish the true cause of death.
The Coroner's Decision
At the conclusion of an inquest, the coroner reports their findings in a document known as the coroner’s decision. The coroner's decision is made publicly available and may be used to ensure similar deaths are prevented in the future.
Although the coroner usually determines if an inquest is necessary, a family member of the deceased may write to the coroner requesting an inquest be conducted. If this request is refused, they can apply to the Supreme Court to have the decision overturned. However, this may be a very time-consuming and emotionally taxing process.
Whilst Coronial involvement means funerals are delayed, it does not mean that funeral planning must be delayed too. The next of kin can contact their preferred funeral provider prior to the completion of an investigation. The appointed funeral arranger will then liaise with the deceased's family and Coroners staff to arrange the funeral. This includes providing information on when their loved one is likely to be released from the care of the coroner.
When the Coroners are required to become involved in a loved one's death, what is an already emotional time can become even more stressful. However, the Coroner plays an important role in ensuring there hasn't been any foul play when a loved one dies unexpectedly or in suspicious circumstances.
If you find yourself in a situation where your loved one is at the Coroners and you need to arrange their funeral, the experienced team at Willed can assist and support you.