What Happens when a Death is Reported to the Coroner?
10 January 2020
When a death is reported to the coroner, the coroner will establish who has died as well as where, when and how the death occurred. If the cause of death is unclear, the coroner will order a post-mortem. Following the post-mortem, the coroner may decide to hold an inquest into the death.
If the evidence heard during the coroner's inquest suggests the death may have been caused by someone else's actions or negligence, the family may be able to make a claim for compensation on behalf of the deceased. Our coroner and inquest solicitors can provide specialist guidance and legal advice in these circumstances.
For example, if the death was caused by the actions of a medical practitioner then this could be grounds for a medical negligence claim. If the person died in a road accident that was caused by another driver, then the Estate could be entitled to make a personal injury claim.
When is a Death Reported to the Coroner?
Although it may sound alarming when you hear that a death has been referred to the coroner, it's actually very common with 45% of all deaths being reported to the coroner. There are a number of reasons why this may happen.
A death will be reported to the coroner if:
- The death was sudden and unexplained
- The cause of death is unknown
- The deceased wasn't seen by a medical practitioner during their final illness
- There's no medical certificate available
- There is a medical certificate, but the doctor who signed this didn't see the deceased within 14 days before or after their death
- The cause of death is violent or unnatural
- The person died during an operation while they were under general anaesthetic
- The medical certificate suggests that an industrial disease or industrial poisoning may have caused the death
Once a death has been reported to the coroner, a set process will be followed.
Step 1 of the Coroner's Process
The coroner will decide whether a post-mortem is needed to establish the cause of death.
If the cause of death is clear and no post-mortem is needed, then the doctor will sign a medical certificate which can then be taken to the registrar. The coroner will also issue a certificate to the registrar confirming that no post-mortem is needed. The body will then be released to the chosen funeral directors so that the funeral can take place.
If the coroner decides that a post-mortem is needed then this will be held either in a hospital or a mortuary. The family of the deceased cannot object to the post-mortem, but they can request details of where and when this will take place.
Step 2 of the Coroner's Process
If a post-mortem has been carried out, the coroner will then decide whether to hold an inquest into the death. The purpose of the coroner's inquest is to establish the circumstances surrounding the death, including where and how it happened.
The coroner must hold an inquest into the death if:
- The cause of death is still unknown after the post-mortem
- The death may have been violent or unnatural
- The death occurred while the person was in prison or police custody
Step 3 of the Coroner's Process
If the coroner decides that it's necessary to hold an inquest into the death, then this will be opened soon after the death. During the inquest, the coroner will select witnesses to give evidence. Some relatives and those acting on behalf of the deceased (such as a Coroner and Inquest Solicitor) are also entitled to question witnesses.
The death cannot be registered until after the inquest has taken place. However, the coroner can provide an interim death certificate which can be used to apply for the grant of probate and to notify organisations of the death.
When the inquest finishes, the coroner will come to a conclusion as to how, when and where the death occurred. They will prepare a legal statement which confirms these details.