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The role of the coroner
The coroner is an independent judicial officer whose role is to investigate any death in his/her jurisdiction reported to him/her which is violent or unnatural or the cause is unknown or which occurs in prison, police custody or other state detention, for example, a patient detained under section 2 of the Mental Health Act. Since 2013 newly appointed coroners must have 5 years of legal practice or part-time judicial practice. Coroners who were in post before 2013 could be lawyers or doctors.
The coroner is required by law to establish, if possible, the medical cause of death and to answer 4 questions, namely, who died, where and when they died and how they came by their death.
The coroner as part of his investigation may instruct a pathologist to carry out a post mortem examination (autopsy). If the autopsy confirms that the death occurred from natural causes there may be no need for further investigation. The coroner will release the body, the death can be registered as normal and the funeral can take place. If there is uncertainty as to the cause, the coroner will hold an inquest.
An inquest is a public hearing held in the Coroner’s Court and the coroner or a jury will listen to evidence to establish the answers to the 4 questions.