Protecting your interests: when your coronial statement is used against you

Dec 15, 2016

A police officer visits your psychiatry practice requesting a statement regarding the recent death of Ms Park, a 31-year-old patient you had recently treated for mental health issues. Ms Park was also being treated by her GP and had suffered an overdose prescribed by another doctor. As one of her treating doctors, you are asked to provide a statement to the coroner outlining your treatment and opinion.

Look before you leap

Although at the time of writing your statement for the coroner, you did not recollect Ms Park’s drug dependency, you did not prescribe the diazepam that caused her death. You feel that you have done nothing wrong and don’t think it’s necessary to seek legal assistance. Like many doctors, you may not appreciate the implications of being involved in coronial proceedings and why it’s important to seek our assistance sooner rather than later.

The autopsy findings

An autopsy found that Ms Park died of diazepam toxicity.

As it turns out, the coronial brief of evidence contained your medical records which make reference to Ms Park’s previous drug dependency. Unfortunately, you don’t remember seeing this material and you failed to enter this in to the software prompts to highlight any potential interactions.

Your treatment regime may have been different had you been conscious of Ms Park’s drug dependency when you prescribed her benzodiazepines a month ago for anxiety.

Coroner critical of psychiatrist’s care

Due to criticism during the inquest of the doctors’ involved in Ms Park’s care, the coroner is obliged to refer you and the other doctors, to a regulatory body for an investigation. Your coronial statement will now be used as evidence in the complaint against you and by Ms Park’s family who have decided to bring civil proceedings against you for negligence.

Protecting your interests

Providing a statement to the police is often the first step in what can turn into a complex and lengthy coronial investigation. While a doctor’s involvement is usually not contentious, there are a number of implications you need to be aware. These include:

  • The importance of protecting your personal and professional reputation.
  • The matter is likely to result in a coronial inquest and you could be called to give evidence.
  • Your statement can potentially be used against you and if concerns are raised regarding your treatment, the coroner can refer you to the local regulatory body, AHPRA or even the Director of Public Prosecutions.
  • As a witness you may require legal representation. This is important not only from the perspective of needing legal advice but also in terms of advocacy.

In the early stages of a coronial investigation it’s difficult to anticipate whether you will need legal assistance as you don’t know how the investigation will develop. You may also lack some key information, for example, autopsy or toxicology reports, medical records and statements which have been or will be obtained by the police.

Avant’s support

Avant can advise and support members during the entire process by:

  • relieving the pressure by becoming the contact point for the police and the coroner’s office.
  • ensuring you have all the available material and helping you draft your statement to the coroner
  • assisting you throughout the coronial investigation
  • representing you at the coronial inquest
  • helping you with any response that is required for a regulatory body or civil claim.

Key lessons

This case illustrates several critical lessons for doctors who may be asked by police to provide a statement for the coroner.

From a medical stand point, it’s important to verify information with other doctors and use software prompts and reminders to highlight records containing crucial information such as drug dependency.

It’s hard to know in the initial stages what turn a coronial investigation may take, so it’s also important to contact Avant immediately:

  • Before you enter into detailed conservations with the police or agree to draft a statement for the coroner. Your statement may unwittingly result in self-incrimination and could potentially be used in other proceedings.
  • To ensure that you have all the relevant information available before drafting your statement and giving evidence.
  • If you receive a summons to give evidence at a coronial inquest so that we can represent you and protect your interests.

Learn more

Visit the Avant Learning Centre for case studies, articles, factsheets, eLearning courses, checklists and webinars, offering advice and information on the coronial process.

If you need advice regarding a coronial investigation, call Avant’s Medico-legal Advisory Service on 1800 128 268 or email

Share your view

We welcome your feedback on this article – email the Editor at: