The coroner is a doctor or lawyer responsible for investigating deaths in particular situations and can also arrange for a post-mortem examination of the body, if necessary. An inquest is a legal inquiry into the causes and circumstances of a death.
The Coroner for Surrey is Mr Richard Travers who is supported by a number of coroner's officers located at Woking. They deal with cases under the direction of the coroner, reporting to and referring to him.
When is a death reported to the coroner?
If death occurs in any of the following circumstances, the doctor may report it to the coroner:
- after an accident or injury
- following an industrial disease
- during a surgical operation or before recovery from an anaesthetic
- if the cause of death is unknown
- if the death was violent or unnatural - for example, suicide, accident or drug or alcohol overdose
- if the death was sudden and unexplained - for instance, a sudden infant death (cot death)
- In addition to this, if the deceased was not seen by the doctor issuing the medical certificate after he or she died, or during the 14 days before the death, the death must be reported to the coroner.
Anyone who is concerned about the cause of a death can inform a coroner about it, but in most cases, a death will be reported to the coroner by a doctor, the police or the registrar of deaths.
What happens once a death is reported to the coroner?
The coroner may be the only person able to certify the cause of death and will decide whether there should be any further investigation. The registrar cannot register the death until notified of the coroner's decision. This means that the funeral will usually also be delayed. Where a post-mortem has taken place, the coroner must give permission for cremation.
In some cases, the coroner will need to order a post-mortem. This is a medical examination of the body to find out more about the cause of death. In these cases, the body will be taken to a hospital for this to be carried out. You do not have the right to refuse permission for a post-mortem ordered by the coroner, but you should tell the coroner if you have religious or other strong objections. In cases where a death is reported to a coroner because the person had not seen a doctor in the previous 14 days, the coroner will consult with the deceased person's doctor and will usually not need to order a post-mortem.
Where the coroner does not consider it necessary to hold an inquest, a notification is usually sent directly to the registrar to enable an informant to register the death. If the body is to be cremated, the coroner will issue the form which allows this to take place.
An inquest is a legal inquiry into the medical cause and circumstances of a death. It is held in public - sometimes with a jury - by a coroner, in cases where the death was:
- violent or unnatural
- took place in prison or police custody
- the cause of death is still uncertain after a post-mortem
Coroners hold inquests in these circumstances even if the death occurred abroad and the body is returned to England or Wales.
If an inquest is held, the coroner must inform the nearest relative of the deceased or the personal representative who are able to attend the inquest and ask questions of witnesses. These questions can only be about the medical cause and circumstances of the death - the coroner can give you more information on this.
An inquest will inevitably cause a delay in the actual death registration. In order for you to be able to deal with the deceased's estate whilst the inquest is proceeding, the coroner can issue you with interim death certificates which will be required by banks, insurance companies etc. when discussing the deceased's personal affairs.
Once the inquest has been completed, the coroner will issue a form directly to the registrar enabling them to complete the formal death registration - this may be weeks or months after the death actually occurred. You do not need to attend an appointment for this type of registration. Instead, the coroner will give you details of how you may apply to the register office for copies of the official death certificate, should you wish to do so.
- See Coroner for Surrey website
- The Surrey Police Press Office is advised of the inquest hearing arrangements for cases to be heard in the current week