When a death is referred to a coroner, it is then the responsibility of the coroner to decide if they will investigate the death further and how they will carry out the investigation. In many cases the decision to investigate is obvious, e.g. someone involved in a traffic accident, but sometimes a doctor may speak with the coroner or coroner’s officer as they are unsure if the coroner needs to investigate or not.
Often, in these cases, the coroner will want their officer to speak with the immediate next of kin or the person who has been caring for the person who has died, to obtain their view of the illness and care that was given. If it is agreed that that the death was from natural causes the doctor will be allowed to complete a medical certificate of cause of death.
The coroner will normally issue additional documentation to inform the registrar of deaths that they have been informed of the death and no further investigation is necessary.
Who is in charge – the coroner or the police?
If a death has been notified to the coroner, it is always the coroner who has the authority to make decisions about what happens to the deceased person (has ‘jurisdiction’). In law, no-one can own the deceased person’s body but when the coroner is involved, their legal right to make decisions about the deceased person’s body takes priority over those of anyone else.
However if police are investigating the death because of a possible criminal act, the coroner will work closely with the police. Police may appoint a Family Liaison Officer to lead on communication with the bereaved family.
The coroner will take account of information from the police on whether a post-mortem examination is needed and what type of examination and also when the deceased person can be released for a funeral to be arranged.