Coroners investigate certain kinds of deaths in order to determine the identity of the deceased and the date, place, circumstances and medical cause of death. Coroners also investigate the cause and origin of fires and explosions. In short, the Coroner’s role is to find out what happened, not to point the finger or lay blame. Read more about
the circumstances in which a death must be reported to the Coroner.
In some cases, inquests are held and witnesses are called to give evidence of their knowledge of the circumstances of the case under investigation.
Following an inquest, coroners may make recommendations to governments and other agencies with a view to improving public health and safety. The Coroner has no power to enforce compliance with such recommendations.
It is a matter for the relevant government minister(s) or agencies to determine whether a Coroner’s recommendations should be adopted.
Since 1 July 2009, the
responses by government ministers and agencies to coronial recommendations have been published by the Department of Justice.
The Coroner cannot find someone guilty of a crime.
If, at any time during the course of an inquest or inquiry, the Coroner forms an opinion that a known person has committed an indictable offence in connection with the death the Coroner is required to suspend the inquest or inquiry and refer the matter to the
Director of Public Prosecutions.
It is entirely a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions to determine whether charges should be laid against the person, and a matter for the criminal courts to determine whether the person is guilty.
Similary, the Coroner cannot determine civil liability, although the Coroner’s finding may be relied upon in subsequent civil proceedings and/or insurance claims.
The Coroner may summon witnesses, and people found lying are guilty of perjury.
Additional powers of the Coroner include the power of subpoena, the power of arrest, the power to administer oaths, and the power to sequester juries of six during inquests.
Further powers of the Coroner include:
In some situations, the
decision of a Coroner can be reviewed or appealed.