HM Coroner

Although it may sound alarming when you hear that the death of your loved one has been referred to the coroner, it's actually very common and nothing to worry about, with 45% of all deaths in the UK being referred. There are a number of reasons why this may happen.

Reasons include:

  • 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
  • If there is a medical certificate, 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, 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 for the funeral to take place.

If 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.

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 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

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 person's 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.