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
For a complete list of the type of deaths that are
reportable to the Coroner, please visit http://www.coroners.justice.nsw.gov.au/Pages/coroner_role/coroners_role.aspx
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
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
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
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.