Under the Coronial Inquest Law, “deaths where the causes are uncertain, are violent (including deaths that are the result of any trauma) or suspicious, or are otherwise untoward or occur in particular circumstances that warrant receiving special attention must be reported to a coroner for scrutiny.”
In practice, the Coroner serves to investigate whether any death is determined to be, in fact, suspicious. The coroner acts as the initial determining factor in deciding whether or not the police pursue a criminal investigation so a lawyer will be required.
The Coroner’s Inquest Begins with a Reportable Death
The Coroner’s job is to investigate every ‘reportable death’ and make a determination of whether or not foul play was present in the circumstances of that particular death.
A ‘reportable death’, includes a very wide range of circumstances. The definition is designed to include any and all circumstances which could in any way be considered suspicious.
A hospital death of an elderly person known to have a terminal ailment, would not be a reportable death as there would be medical records proving a history of the terminal illness. However, a hospital death from unexplained causes of an otherwise healthy young person would be a reportable death.
There are many legal guidelines to determining a reportable death and the scenarios presented in this article should only serve as examples. However, basically, when any death cannot be explained and proven by readily apparent circumstances, it becomes a reportable death.
What the Coroners Job Entails
In many case the Coroner’s first task is to make an identification of the body and to inform the family of the death.
Determining the cause of death is the next step in the coronial process. This investigation may be extensive, depending on the circumstances.
In the case of the healthy young person dying of unexplained causes in hospital, the Coroner would be required to conduct an investigation of the person’s medical history, interview the family and investigate the pertinent documents and records of the hospital. An autopsy would also be called for and the Coroner would consult with the pathologist on the autopsy findings.
What Happens When the Coroner Releases a Suspicious Finding
When a Coroner releases a finding that implies the death in question is suspicious, the Coroner is prohibited from making any further assumptions based in his or her evidence used in the finding.
The Coroner is not a member of the police or the judiciary. They cannot have an opinion on who was responsible for the death. Their job is only to make an identification of the body and determine how and why the person died.
It is up to the police and judiciary to decide whether or not to pursue a criminal investigation based on the Coroner’s finding.