Firstly-try not to be alarmed, as this is a normal procedure and the Coroner’s office will be able to answer any questions you may have.
Although most deaths referred to the Coroner are of natural causes, sometimes they may need to be reported because they happened suddenly or unexpectedly (e.g. following an accident). If the cause of death is not known, it is a legal requirement in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to refer the death to the Coroner, which is usually done by the Police or a doctor. In some circumstances, the Coroner will allow the doctor to issue a Medical Certificate but will also provide an additional document to the Registrar.
What is a post-mortem examination?
In some cases, to be able to determine the cause of death, it is necessary to proceed with a post-mortem examination, but this will only take place after the Coroner or someone from his/her office speaks to the nearest relative or their representative, as well as to any doctors that have been looking after the deceased. A post-mortem examination is an external and internal examination of the body and its only purpose is to determine the cause of death. You will be able to tell the Coroner’s office if you object to it for any reason and, if you are a family Coroner’s Involvement member, you have a legal right to be represented at the examination, although most people find this unnecessary. This examination is not done for research or any other purposes.
What happens after the post-mortem examination?
If the cause of death is determined to be natural and there are no other circumstances requiring an inquest, a document will be issued by the Coroner, which will allow the death to now be registered. This document may be sent to the Registrar directly or you may need to collect it in person. Usually, the funeral director will contact the Coroner’s office to find out when the body can be collected to prepare for the funeral.
What is an inquest?
If the cause of death remains unknown or if the Coroner suspects that the person died a violent or unnatural death or died in legal custody, he/she may hold an inquest. An inquest is not considered a trial. It is an enquiry to establish who the deceased was and how, where and when they died. Most inquests are heard in front of a Coroner but some may be heard in front of a Coroner with a jury. The length of the inquest will vary according to the circumstances to be investigated. When the Coroner decides to hold an inquest, the death cannot be registered, but the Coroner will normally issue the necessary documentation to permit a burial or cremation, so the funeral can take place. In order to assist with the administration of the estate, an Interim Certificate of Fact of Death is issued, which is normally accepted by banks and other financial institutions. This certificate can also be used to obtain a Form DB8 from the Registrar.
How will you know about the progress of the inquest?
You will be informed of the progress of the investigation accordingly, but you are required to be patient as, in many occasions, the Coroners and their staff are waiting for information from other people. The Coroner usually ensures that any questions are answered during the inquest, so the experience is less stressful for the ones involved. After an inquest, the death is registered automatically and death certificates can be purchased from the Registrar. If families decide to have legal representation at an inquest, they may do so at their own expense, as legal aid is not yet available for this. The help of solicitors is also not usually necessary, unless there is a possibility of further legal action (e.g. suing someone that may have been responsible for the death).