Coroners, post-mortem examinations and inquests

Whenever a death is unexpected, unexplained or unnatural, the coroner must be notified, usually by a doctor or the Police.

Unexpected, unexplained or unnatural deaths

Most of these deaths will be determined to be completely natural, for example, a heart attack in someone who seemed healthy. There are a few other circumstances in which deaths must be referred to the coroner, such as someone detained by the state in a Police cell, prison or detention centre, or sectioned in a psychiatric hospital.

The coroner and their staff will gather information from family, doctors and any other relevant person to decide if a doctor may issue a certificate of cause of death, or whether a post-mortem examination must be carried out.

The closest family member to this person or their appointed representative will be kept informed of all decisions and the reasons for them. Usually, there is little to no delay to funeral arrangements. If there must be a delay, the reason for this will be fully explained to the family.

Post-mortem examinations

A post-mortem examination is a thorough external and internal examination of the body of someone who has died. It is carried out by a pathologist – a doctor who is trained for this work. The doctor will be assisted by anatomical pathology technicians during the examination. These are professional people who will always treat the body with respect. In most cases, it will be possible for a family to view their relative after the examination, if they wish to do so.

If a post-mortem examination reveals a natural cause of death, the coroner will send the necessary information to the registrar of births and deaths and an appointment should be made by the family to register the death.

Inquests

Alternatively, a coroner may decide further investigation of the death is required and will hold an inquest – a formal court hearing to establish who has died and the cause of their death. Sometimes the investigation may be carried out by other agencies, such as the Police following a homicide, or the Health and Safety Executive in the case of an industrial accident.

The family will be kept informed of the investigation at regular intervals and will be invited to attend the inquest. If there is to be an investigation of the death leading up to an inquest, the coroner issues a document to the family that can be used to administer an estate, which replaces the certified copy of the death certificate.

After an inquest, the death is registered by the coroner and the family can purchase certified copies of the death certificate.

Here is the link to the Government’s own Guide to Coroner Services: www.gov.uk/government/publications/guide-to-coroner-services-and-coroner-investigations-a-short-guide

Here is the link to the Coroners Support Service website, which is an excellent source for more information https://coronerscourtssupportservice.org.uk/

To understand more about coroners, post-mortem examinations and inquests, you can call one of our experienced bereavement advisors for free* on 0800 024 6121.