Coroners Court

Post mortem

Following an unexplained or unexpected death, the Coroner may direct NSW Health Pathology’s Forensic Medicine service to conduct a post-mortem examination. A post-mortem examination may also be referred to as an “autopsy”.


For a complete list of the type of deaths that are reportable to the Coroner, please visit


Coronial post-mortem examinations are medical procedures performed by forensic pathologists at one of three dedicated facilities in Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong. The forensic pathologist’s role is to advise the Coroner on the nature and extent of any disease or injury that may have caused a person’s death. This enables the Coroner to deliver a balanced and accurate finding.


Forensic pathologists are supported by specialist teams including forensic post-mortem technicians, radiologists, radiographers, forensic social workers and administrative staff. The services of odontologists, anthropologists and DNA biologists may also be required.


The first stage of a post-mortem examination is usually non-invasive and can include a review of medical records, computed tomography (CT) scanning, an external examination of the body and the collection of body fluids for toxicology or other laboratory tests. Only if these non-invasive procedures do not provide sufficient information to establish the cause of death, an examination similar to a surgical operation will be required.


During a post-mortem examination small samples of tissue may be retained for further microscopic examination to assist the forensic pathologist in determining the cause of death. In some cases the pathologist may seek approval from the Coroner to retain whole organs for further specialist examination.


Following the post-mortem examination, an interim cause of death finding is made to the Coroner. If the Forensic Pathologist was unable to determine the cause of death following the examination, the  interim cause of death may be list as “unascertained” or ‘undetermined’.


Final coronial post-mortem reports can take a number of months to complete depending on the complexity of the case, required clinical tests, interpretation of results and directions from the Coroner.