If the Coroner must investigate further after the post mortem
If the post mortem shows an unnatural cause of death, or if the cause of death is not found at the initial examination, the Coroner will open an investigation or inquest. They will also need to do this if the deceased died in custody or otherwise in the care of the State.
What is an inquest?
An inquest is a public judicial inquiry to determine who the deceased was, when and where they died, the medical cause of their death and how they came by their death. Usually it is the 'how' question that is the focus of the inquiries. There is much more information in the section on the inquest system.
How will it affect our funeral plans?
If the Coroner has decided to open an investigation or inquest, we will tell you when we call with the post mortem results. It will change things in two main ways at the outset.
Firstly, your relative's body will need to be formally identified before we can release it for the funeral. A Police Coroner's Officer will contact you and arrange for you or another person who knew the deceased well to view the body with them and confirm the identity.
This will add an extra day to the timescale you can expect. Therefore we are usually able to release the body within 6-8 working days.
At this stage, we will need to know which Funeral Director you have engaged and whether you will be having a burial or cremation service. This is because we produce paperwork to release your relative's body into the care of a named Funeral Director. The paperwork will be different for a burial or a cremation. We cannot release the body until we have this information. If you need a few days to make this decision, that is fine.
Secondly, you will not be able to register the death at the Register Office until the investigation has been completed or the inquest hearing has been held. In the meantime, we will send you interim death certificates. These look and function just like normal death certificates, except that the cause of death is not confirmed. They can be used for closing down bank accounts and all other correspondence about the deceased's estate. If you need more copies at any point, just let us know. The only organisations that do not always accept interim certificates are insurance companies. They will need to write directly to our office to have their questions addressed.
What will happen next?
Once the formal identification has been done and your relative's body has been released, we will usually not trouble you for the next month or so. We are using this time to gather the information that the Coroner has asked for from doctors, eye-witnesses, police officers or whoever may be appropriate in your relative's case. A Police Coroner's Officer may contact a member of the family to ask for what is known as an antecedent statement. This covers your relative's personal background and any information you may have about their health or the events surrounding their death.
If the cause of death was unascertained at the original post mortem, it is very likely that the Pathologist will be able to discover it by doing histology (microscope work) or toxicology (blood/urine analysis). When the results come through, we will let you know.
Once we have all the information to hand, we will contact you again about arranging a hearing in court if this is necessary. Please don't be concerned about this in the early stages - we know you may have a great deal to manage both practically and emotionally. We can talk through this part of the process with you nearer the time.
If you have concerns or complaints about the circumstances of your relative's death, please follow the link for information on the best way to let us know about them. You are always welcome to contact us for this or any other reason.