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Frequently asked questions about the Coroners Service

​​​​​​​​​​​What do I do if someone dies suddenly?

Contact your GP or the local police. In most cases the deceased's own doctor or a hospital doctor will be able to issue a medical certificate as to the cause of death. If this isn't possible, the doctor should report the death as soon as possible to the Coroner’s Office during normal office hours. If the death occurs at night or at a weekend there may be a delay in contacting the deceased’s GP. In these circumstances it may be necessary for the deceased to be moved to the Royal Oldham Hospital Mortuary to allow time for enquiries to be made. This removal will be undertaken by the coroner’s removal service.

What do do after someone dies - more information on GOV.UK

Why are the police involved?

The police act as Coroner’s Officers, although the officer may be in uniform. A visit by the police should not make people think there is anything suspicious about the death.

The purpose of the visit is to obtain the information that the coroner needs to conduct his enquiries and to provide the correct personal information to the Registrar. The duties of a Police Coroner’s Officer are:

  • To liaise with the family and others regarding the procedures involved in the conduct of the coroner’s inquiry.
  • To contact the coroner on your behalf if you so wish and to guide you through the time leading up to an inquest.
  • To liaise with the witnesses regarding their involvement in the inquest.

Why is the coroner involved?

The coroner has a duty to investigate and record the details of any death where the cause is not known, or the death is violent or unnatural and any deaths whilst the deceased was in lawful custody.

A death may be reported for a number of reasons. It does not mean that there is anything suspicious about the death, it may be that the Doctor is unsure of the exact cause or that the person has died earlier than expected, suffered from an industrial disease, died during a surgical operation, or before recovery from an anaesthetic.

When a death is reported to the coroner he may:

  • Be satisfied by the doctor as to the cause of death and proceed no further.
  • Decide to carry out a post-mortem, and on the results of that examination decide not to hold an inquest.
  • Hold an inquest after a post-mortem examination.
  • Hold an inquest without a post-mortem if the treating doctor is prepared to either give a cause of death that is inquestable or can confirm death is due to natural causes.

What happens if someone dies in Scotland or abroad?

When the body of the deceased lies within the geographical area, coroner’s jurisdiction arises and the death is then treated in exactly the same way as if the death had occurred here, rather than abroad. The only difference, is that the death certificate will have been issued in the country where the death occurred, rather than by the Registrar here.

What happens if I wish to move the body of the deceased out of England and Wales?

The coroner must give permission (an "Out of England Order") for a body to be moved out of England or Wales. This permission has to be obtained at least 4 days before the body is to be moved (although the Coroner will usually be able to give permission sooner) so that any necessary enquiries may be carried out. The Funeral Director will make all the necessary arrangements.

Permission must be obtained whenever the funeral is to take place outside England or Wales.

This procedure applies in all cases where the body is to be moved out of England or Wales, not just where a death was reported to the coroner.

What is a post-mortem?

This is an examination to determine the medical cause of death. In some cases organs or tissue samples may be retained for further investigation. The post-mortem will be carried out by a consultant pathologist, when a young child dies a paediatric pathologist will carry out the examination.

Why have a post-mortem?

If the deceased’s own GP or the hospital doctor cannot give a medical cause of death then an examination may have to take place to determine the cause.

Can I object to a post-mortem?

No, but you may wish to make representatives which the coroner will consider. The coroner has a legal duty to ascertain the cause of death and may have to direct a post mortem examination.

Who organises and pays for the transport of the deceased to and from the post-mortem?

The Coroner's Office will organise the removal of the deceased to the hospital and pay for this service.

What happens if the deceased wished to be an organ donor?

Donation of organs is regulated by the Human Tissue Authority. Further information on how organ donation works is available on the NHS website. ​You and the coroner will liaise with the doctor or hospital so that the necessary arrangements can be made as soon as possible.

Why are organs sometimes removed from the body of the deceased and what happens to them?

Sometimes the Pathologist needs to carry out a more detailed investigation of particular organs to establish the cause of death. If this is done then the Pathologist must tell the coroner for how long the organs should be retained.

The coroner will notify the family of this and ask them to tell him what they wish to happen to the organs at the end of that period. Usually, the Pathologist only needs to take a very small sample of an organ, rather than removing the organ itself. This sample then forms part of the deceased’s medical record.

Do I have to accept the result of a post-mortem?

No. You can ask the coroner for a second post-mortem but you will need to pay for this and make all the arrangements yourself.

Will a post-mortem delay the funeral?

Not usually.

The coroner and Pathologist understand the desire on the part of the family to deal with matters expeditiously, particularly in cases where the religious or cultural beliefs of the family require a funeral to be held within a particular time period. However, there are some cases where a slight delay occurs. In such cases an explanation will be given to the family together with an estimate of how long the delay will be. In those few cases where an organ has been removed for further examination the body of the deceased is normally released to the family immediately so that the funeral can be held without further delay, although, of course, the organ itself will have to be returned later.

Can I have a copy of the post-mortem report?

The coroner can supply a copy of the report to "properly interested" persons - immediate family, legal representatives of involved in the inquest - on application. The Coroner’s Officer will usually explain the main points of the report to the family as soon as it is available. Your GP will be able to answer questions in more detail. 

If you require a copy of the post mortem report you should contact the Coroner’s Office to make this request.

Who are 'properly interested persons'?

They are individuals or organisations who have a right to participate in the inquest, entitled to disclosure of documentation and to ask questions at the hearing.

How do I get a death certificate or interim death certificate?

When the coroner is given a cause of death by the doctor, the doctor and the coroner will notify the Registrar of the death. This will happen normally within 24 hours. You may then call the Registrar's office for the area in which the individual died to make an appointment to visit the Registrar and register the death. You must do this in person.

If the coroner has decided to hold a post-mortem when he receives the report and does not require an inquest to be held, he will send a certificate to the Registrar to register the death - this happens usually within 24 hours of the report being received by the coroner. The Coroner’s Officer will have told you the main points of the report and will tell you where, when and how you may obtain a certificate.

If the coroner has decided to hold an inquest then a full death certificate will not be available until after the inquest is concluded. However to enable the family to deal with banks, insurance companies, pension provider, National Savings, or any other body which needs official confirmation of the death the coroner will, on request, issue an 'Interim Death Certificate' as to the Fact of Death.

The interim certificate is not a death certificate. 3 copies of this are supplied to the next of kin once the inquest has been opened. Do not send all 3 away - keep one copy in case you need to have certified copies made for other institutions. Certified copies can be obtained from a solicitor.

Where do I get a death certificate?

Death certificates are issued by the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages for the area where the deceased died. Registering a death.

Why hold an inquest?

The coroner is required to establish who died, where, when and how. "How" is interpreted as by what means did the death occur.  

The coroner must also reach a conclusion about such deaths, for example, accident, misadventure, suicide.

The coroner is NOT concerned with matters of fault or blame.

Where needed an inquest will be opened in public to take evidence of identity and brief circumstances before being adjourned to allow a full investigation to be conducted. The inquest is then resumed when the coroner will consider, in public, all the evidence before making the findings that the law demands.

When will the inquest be held?

A provisional inquest date is usually set 4 months in advance from the date in which the inquest is opened after which enquiries will continue and the file reviewed regularly. Confirmation that the inquest is to proceed on the provisional date will then be sent to all parties prior to the inquest date.  If the date has to be changed all relevant parties will be notified as soon as is practicable.   

If there is a criminal prosecution in relation to the death then, depending upon the charges brought, the inquest will be adjourned until the outcome of those proceedings is known. Depending upon the nature of those proceedings (for example, a murder trial) the coroner may decide that it is not necessary for the inquest to be resumed because all the information that the coroner needs has been disclosed in the course of that trial. The coroner, in such a case, will then register the death as if an inquest had been held. 

Where will the inquest take place?

The inquest will be usually be held at the Coroner’s Court at the Phoenix Centre​ in Heywood

Do I have to go to the inquest?

Yes, you are obliged to attend an inquest if directed by the Coroner's Office. If you fail to attend you will receive a witness summons to attend. It is an offence punishable by imprisonment if you disregard the summons.

What happens in an inquest?

The coroner will explain how the Inquest is to be conducted. He will then determine who is present and if there is any legal representation. Evidence is then given either:

  • On oath by witnesses in person.
  • By statements, reports or documents being read by the coroner.

The coroner will then consider all the evidence and reach his conclusions or findings.

The Coroner will record the details required by the Registration Act which will allow him to register the death on behalf of the family.

Can members of the family speak at the inquest?

Yes. The coroner will give you the opportunity to comment either formally, by giving sworn evidence, or informally. He will ask you if you have any questions for individual witnesses or about the content of any statement or document which is read out.

You will be given the opportunity to add anything you feel might be relevant to the coroner’s understanding of the situation. The coroner will then assess the evidence and announce publicly, his findings.

You may be asked to confirm certain personal details of the deceased as required by the Registration Acts to enable the coroner to register the death.

Why do some inquests have a jury?

The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 requires a jury in certain types of case. The majority of inquests are conducted by the coroner alone. Although the procedure with a jury inquest is rather different, the function and purpose of the inquest remains the same.

What does it mean if I am called to serve on a coroner’s jury?

The Coroner’s and Justice Act 2009 requires a jury in certain types of case. The function of the jury is to find the facts required by the Coroners Act this is who the deceased was, how when and where the deceased met his/her death. The coroner is responsible for deciding matters of law and procedure whilst the jury is responsible for determining the facts.

You will swear an oath to 'give a true conclusion according to the evidence'.

The coroner will explain at the start of the Inquest everything that is expected of the jury in dealing with the case.

You will be able to claim allowances at prescribed rates for travelling, subsistence and for financial loss, such as loss of earnings, if you are called to serve on a jury.

Will I or the family need a solicitor?

You may wish to be legally represented at the inquest. You can take advice from any firm of solicitors or Advice Centre as to the best way of dealing with this. The coroner cannot advise you on which solicitor you should consult. The vast majority of inquests take place without legal representatives being present. An inquest is an inquiry conducted by the coroner and not a trial.

What does it mean if I am called as a witness?

Witnesses are called to the inquest to tell the coroner what they know or what they saw or did in connection with the death that the coroner is investigating. This may be because you witnessed the incident in which the deceased died or because you have information that explains why certain things were done which shed light on the circumstances surrounding the death.

Witnesses give evidence on oath, either by swearing on a Holy Book to tell the truth or by making a solemn declaration, called an Affirmation, that the evidence ​to be given is the truth.

If, having sworn to tell the truth, false evidence is given, then the criminal offence of perjury is committed. The coroner and the calways view this seriously. A witness who commits perjury will be reported to the police with a view to prosecution.

The coroner questions the witness so that the evidence, which the witness can give, is fully explored. After the coroner’s questions the family or other properly interested persons may, with the consent of the coroner, ask questions.

Do I or the family have to accept the conclusion of the inquest?

It is sometimes possible to challenge the conclusion of the inquest by way of an application to the High Court for a judicial review. You should take legal advice about such a course of action as soon as possible after the coroner has made a decision.

Will the press be present?

In some cases the press will be present but not always, however an Inquest MUST be held in public and therefore the press can attend at any inquest should they choose to do so. The media are not entitled to any more information than that which is given in court.

Contact

01706 924815

Phone: Monday-Friday 9am-12.30pm and 1.30pm-4.30pm.

Find the Coroners Service on a map

Coroners Service
Phoenix Centre
L/Cpl Stephen Shaw MC Way (formerly Church Street)
Heywood OL10 1LR