- See Procurator Fiscal in Scotland
Their role is to investigate certain types of death.
- Violent or unnatural (violence is usually unnatural)
- Sudden or of unknown cause
- Death in prison or in custody, which includes deaths in secure psychiatric units
- Industrial-related deaths
Approximately 40-50% of deaths are referred to the Coroner and, of that, 40-50% undergo an autopsy.
The Coroner (French couronne,Latin corona, as in latin custos placitorum coronae (coronas), pleas of the crown ) holds an ancient judicial office that actually had an Anglo-Saxon role. When recreated by the Norman's the coroner upheld appropriate legal procedure in a number of areas of life which allowed lucrative taxation. This included presumed murder by Anglo-Saxon subjects of Normans, rights of the King such as washed up whales and treasure trove. Where the complex legal procedure was not followed, punitive fines could be imposed to raise money for the King's coffers (bypassing the more corrupt sheriffs). The area of responsibility of investigation of sudden deaths, originally raised revenue because an Anglo-Saxon community could be fined for any unexplained body which was assumed to be Norman if not identifiable as Anglo-Saxon.
In modern times, the coroner will hold a legal qualification, a medical qualification, or both. His main role is to determine, in the case of deaths, who died, when, where and of what. Further reform followed on from Shipman.
Usually a retired or sometimes, and out-of-hours, a serving Police officer. They possess common sense, knowledge of procedure, no special medical knowledge to rely upon, and sometimes a desire for peace and tranquility. They are very useful, and quite powerful, as the Coroner's proxy.
Usually take messages but can be very useful. The Coroner may use such offices to ensure discussion takes place at third party distance so do not expect to report a death where your own actions could be examined by other parties directly to the coroner themselves. (perhaps a little like the Coroner's clerks originally established, although the analogy should not be taken too far as the coroner clerk was quickly abolished and replaced by 4 coroner's per county rather than 3 and a coroner's clerk.
Coroners' Rules 1984
Govern the investigations by Coroners (rules reproduced here).
Coroner's Act 1988
Coroners and Justice Act 2009
- Coroners and Justice Act 2009
- DCA website on coroner reform
- BMA website on coroner reform
- Draft guidance on the operation of the coroner system in the event of pandemic influenza - for consultation