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Avant’s Medico-Legal Advisory Service regularly receives calls from members on how to deal with a request from the coroner or police for a statement regarding a patient’s death. The approach from the coroner is sometimes to obtain information from the doctor to help ascertain the cause of death, at other times, the approach may be to obtain a statement from the doctor regarding the care they provided before the patient’s death. In either case, Avant provides advice, support and legal representation (if required) to members when dealing with requests for information by the coroner. The following is a summary of key features of a coronial investigation and hearing.
The Coroner and You
The role of the coroner is to investigate deaths and
inquire into fires and disasters. Facts such as the identity of the deceased,
the cause of death, the circumstances of the death, and persons who contributed
to the death are matters that may be considered by the coroner.
coroner is assisted generally by the police. Following a report of a death, the
police will investigate the death and the coroner will review the evidence and
decide if an inquest is needed to determine the manner and cause of the
The coroner makes no finding of guilt of the parties,
but can and often does make recommendations or refer matters for consideration
to other bodies in the relevant State or Territory such as health registration
boards, relevant Government departments and to the Director of Public
Prosecutions (DPP) if he or she believes that an indictable offence has been
committed in connection with a death. While it is not the coroner’s role to
establish negligence, they can express criticism and/or identify a person who
they consider may have contributed to a death. Accordingly, the official
findings of a coroner often serve as the catalyst for relatives of the deceased
when deciding to commence civil action for monetary compensation against a
Legislation in each State and Territory outlines when a death must be
reported to the coroner. The definition of a ‘reportable death’ is slightly
different in each jurisdiction, but categories of 'reportable deaths' common to
most jurisdictions include:
If the manner and cause of
death are clear, the coroner will usually dispense with an inquest. Many
coronial investigations do not proceed to inquest and the file is closed by
the coroner at an early stage.
Once all of the witnesses have been
heard the lawyers generally make submissions on behalf of their clients to the
coroner. Following the close of submissions the coroner will deliver the
findings which will include:
The coroner may also refer the matter to a
third party, for example the appropriate disciplinary authority or a state
“If the death is reportable
or you cannot confidently certify the cause of death you should not sign the
death certificate” John Kamaras, Special Counsel, Coronial