Coroners Court

My loved one died in the fires FAQ


How long will the coronial investigation into the death of my loved one take?

Under the Coroners Act 2009, the purpose of the coronial investigation process is to gather evidence that enables the coroner to determine the identity of a deceased person and the date, place, manner and cause of their death.  

The time taken to complete the coronial investigation process is highly variable. It depends on the circumstances of your loved one's death and what investigations the coroner decides are needed to make the determinations required by the Coroners Act. 

The evidence obtained from these investigations must be compiled before the coroner can decide whether the coronial process can be finalised or whether an inquest is required. This evidence includes:

  • The forensic pathologist's post mortem (autopsy) report; and
  • The brief of evidence from the police investigation.

In most cases it will take some months for all the necessary evidence to be gathered. If you have any questions about how a coronial investigation is progressing, you can contact the court registry's bushfire files team by telephone on (02) 8584 7777 or email on bushfires.coroners@justice.nsw.gov.au. If possible, please include the Coroner's File Number or the Event Number given to you by the police.

Will there be an inquest?

It is too early for the coroner to decide whether or not any inquests into deaths occurring during the bushfires will be held. 

When a death is reported, generally the coroner will make orders for a post mortem examination (autopsy) to be performed by a forensic pathologist if necessary and for the police to investigate and prepare a brief of evidence. 

Once the post mortem report and the police brief are received, the coroner will review all the evidence and decide whether an inquest is needed. An inquest is only held where the coroner decides that more evidence is needed to determine the identity of a deceased person and the date, place, manner and cause of their death or if there is a public health and safety issue which requires independent review by a Coroner for possible recommendations to be made. 

How do I get a copy of the post mortem report?

If you are the senior next of kin within the definition set out in the Coroners Act 2009, you are entitled to receive copies of all documents kept on an active coroner's file without charge by making a written request. This includes the post mortem report, once it is received by the coroner. 

The post mortem report is prepared by a forensic pathologist who works within the Department of Forensic Medicine, NSW Health.  Post mortem reports can take up to 12 months or longer to be finalised and sent to the coroner. The coroner does not have control over the time taken for the forensic pathologist to finalise a post mortem report. 

To apply for access to coronial documents, please complete this form and email it to bushfires.coroners@justice.nsw.gov.au. As coronial files contain personal and sensitive material, even where a request is made by a senior next of kin, the coroner will review the requested documents before access is provided and you may be contacted by court registry or counselling staff to discuss arrangements for access. 

More information on access to coronial documents is available here.

How do I obtain a death certificate for my loved one?

The death certificate is issued by the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

Generally, you may apply for a death certificate once your loved one's body is released into the care of your nominated funeral director. Your funeral director will complete the required paperwork and register the death with the NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages.

When can I obtain a death certificate?

An interim certificate can be issued on request even if the coroner has not yet determined the cause of death. Once the cause of death is determined, the interim certificate should be returned to the NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages and a standard death certificate can be issued. 

As an interim death certificate does not specify the cause of death, it may not be accepted by some financial and legal institutions for official purposes (for instance, to obtain access to your loved one's superannuation or life insurance, or enable probate to be granted to allow your loved one's will to be executed). This can vary between institutions. You will need to check the requirements of any institution you are dealing with. 

How can I get information about wills and probate and other legal issues?

The Coroners Court is not able to provide information or advice in relation to wills and probate or other legal issues. A number of services are available to provide assistance or referrals:

  • Legal Aid NSW Disaster Response Legal Service NSW - contact 1800 801 529
  • Law Access NSW – contact 1300 888 529 or visit their website 
  • Law Society of NSW Solicitor Referral Service – visit their website