The coroner ("procurator fiscal" in Scotland) is a person responsible for investigating certain deaths.
The coroner will:
- Not take any action if the cause of death falls outside of his or her guidelines.
- Probably arrange for a post-mortem examination of the body. The consent of the relatives is not needed for this, but they can choose a doctor to be present. It is important to know the accurate cause of the death.
- Issue a Form for the Registrar of Births and Deaths if the post-mortem shows that death was due to natural causes. The Coroner usually sends this form direct to the registrar, but he may give it to the family or the funeral direct to deliver.
- Hold an inquest ("fatal accident inquiry" or "FAI" in Scotland) if ...
- the death was violent, or
- the death was caused by an accident, or
- the death occurred in prison, or
- the death was caused by an industrial disease, or
- after post-mortem examination the cause of death remains uncertain, or
- death occurred while the patient was undergoing an operation or was under the effect of an anaesthetic.
This is not a complete list of all the circumstances in which a death is to be reported to the coroner.
If the body is lost (usually at sea) a coroner can hold an inquest by order of the Secretary of State if the death is likely to have occurred in or near a coroner's jurisdiction.
The coroner will also hold inquests in the above circumstances if the death occurred
abroad and the body is returned to Britain.
An inquest (or, in Scotland, a fatal accident inquiry) is an inquiry into the medical cause and circumstance of death. It is held in public, and is sometimes with a jury. It is up to the coroner how to organise the inquiry in a way to best serve the public interest and the interests of the relatives.
Relatives can attend and ask questions of witnesses with the coronerís permission, or be represented by a lawyer.
It may be important to have a lawyer to represent the family if death was caused by a road accident or accident at work, which could lead to a claim for compensation. The family cannot get legal aid for this.
The coroner will also:
- Give free of charge, an order for burial or a certificate for cremation;
- Send a certificate-after-inquest to the registrar, stating the cause of death;
- Give, on request, a letter confirming the fact of death for social security and insurance benefit purposes, if his or her enquiries are likely to take some time;
- Give permission for the body to be removed out of England and Wales. This permission has to be obtained in every case where the funeral is to take place outside England and Wales, and not just where the death has been reported to the coroner;
- Pay for the removal of a body from the place of death to the mortuary for post-mortem examination. Some coroners have their own 'on call' staff or use funeral directors who subcontract their services to the coroner. Where possible, the funeral director to be used will be chosen by the relatives.