About the Coroner
The Coroner is a special type of judge who has the power to conduct an investigation into a death.
Why a death has been referred to the Coroner
There are a variety of reasons why a death might be referred to the Coroner. The most common reasons are when someone dies in the circumstances where:
- the death is potentially violent or unnatural
- the cause of which is unknown or is not entirely clear
- the death occurred in state detention or custody
- the death occurred as a result of an incident at work
Just because a death has been referred to the Coroner does not mean that the death is automatically suspicious, but it does mean that the professionals involved feel that the death should be checked by someone independent. There is a statutory categorisation of the circumstances in which a death should be reported to the Coroner, and this is a legal requirement placed on anyone who is aware of such a death. This requirement cannot be ignored or circumvented.
The requirement to refer a death to the Coroner applies even if someone died abroad – for the purposes of coronial law, anything outside of England and Wales is abroad – and their body is being brought back to Somerset for funeral or burial.
What happens once a death has been referred
The Coroner will take referrals from hospitals, GPs, the police, registrars, ambulance staff and other professionals. The Coroner will then consider the information provided in the referral to decide whether or not a death should be investigated – investigation by the Coroner is entirely separate and independent of any other investigation that may be taking place regarding a death, such as investigation by the police or a hospital trust.
A Coroner’s investigation will, usually, involve four main stages – these are explained more fully below:
1. Consideration of the initial referral
Upon consideration of the initial referral the Coroner will decide whether or not they are required to investigate, or whether it is appropriate in the circumstances to do so.
If the Coroner decides that a post-mortem is necessary to determine the medical cause of death, then they will instruct a pathologist to carry this out. When this process has been completed then the pathologist will send a report to the Coroner which will explain their findings and, hopefully, offer the likely cause of death.
If further enquiries are deemed necessary, then the Coroner will commence an investigation and will decide whether an Inquest is needed.
An inquest is the final part of a Coroner’s investigation. It is a court hearing. The purpose of an Inquest is to provide answers to four statutory questions:
1 – Who the deceased was
2 – When they died
3 – Where they died
4 – How their death came about
In most inquests, answering the ‘How’ question extends to the Coroner ascertaining the medical cause of death and the means by which death occurred.
In some inquests, for example, where the deceased died of unnatural causes in state detention, the scope of the Inquest can be widened and, in doing so, answering the ‘How’ question involves looking at the wide circumstances of the death.
The Coroner may also look to gather information discovered during their investigation to help prevent deaths in the future from arising in similar circumstances.
Contact the Coroner
The Coroner will not, ordinarily, enter into correspondence about investigations or Inquests that they have completed.
If you have questions about your case then you should contact your designated Coroner’s officer by phone or email in the first instance.
Address – Old Municipal Buildings, Corporation Street ,Taunton TA1 4AQ
Phone – 01823 359271
Email - email@example.com
Inquests are held at:
Old Municipal Buildings
There is no on-street parking. There is multi-storey car parking available at Orchard Multi Storey car park. Wheelchair access is by a ramp to the rear of the building. There are wheelchair platform lifts in the Old Municipal Buildings.
Jury Inquests are held at:
Wells Town Hall
There is no on-site parking. There is parking available at Union Street and South Street car park, both of which are within walking distance.
There is full disabled access throughout the building.
Phone lines are open from 9am to 4pm, Monday to Friday excluding Bank Holidays. Emails will be monitored during the same hours.
Any comments or suggestions for improving the service are always welcome.
The aim of the Coroner’s Service is to provide an excellent service and we would hope that you have no grievance or cause to complain. If, however, you are unhappy with the quality of service that you have received then please put any complaint in writing within twelve months of becoming aware of the issue, and this will be dealt with as swiftly as resources allow. You will receive an acknowledgement in the interim and a rough estimate as to when you can expect to receive a substantive response.
Any complaints that relate to the administration of the service, or the conduct of individual officers or members of staff should be raised with the Coroner in writing in the first instance.
Complaints appertaining to a Coroner’s decision, or the Conclusion of an Inquest can only be dealt with through an application to the High Court. The Coroner’s service is unable to give legal advice and so independent legal advice may need to be sought.
If the Coroner is unable to deal with the complaint to your satisfaction, then you may refer this to the Chief Coroner. The Chief Coroner has no disciplinary powers and is unable to make any award of financial compensation. The Chief Coroner may, in appropriate cases, refer the complaint on to the Lord Chancellor who is responsible for the discipline of Coroners.
GPs, ME and other medical practitioners
For medical practitioners querying whether they should refer a death to the Coroner, please email the office –firstname.lastname@example.org – in the first instance.
Please ensure that you provide as much detail as you feel necessary to help the Coroner handle your enquiry, along with your contact details so that an officer can respond.
We advise funeral directors to liaise with families in the first instance, where possible, as the Coroner will be in direct contact with families about the process of their case.
Please be assured that you will be contacted when a body is released to give you plenty of time to make the necessary arrangements for collection.
If you have a specific enquiry that you feel should go to the Coroner’s office direct, then email email@example.com