Coroner

2. What happens when somebody dies

We understand how difficult it can be when someone close to us dies. The feelings of shock, sadness, loss and bewilderment can be very strong. It is also a time when there are many things to be done, just when we may feel least able to do them.

The Coroner’s Office will do all they can to assist you during this time.

The Bereavement Advice Centre supports and advises people on what they need to do after a death.

What do I do if someone dies suddenly?

In the first instance, contact your GP or the local police.

The police, acting for the Coroner, will, if necessary, arrange for a local Funeral Director to attend to move the deceased. In most cases the deceased’s own doctor or a hospital doctor will be able to give a medical cause of death. If the death occurs at night or at a weekend there may be a delay in contacting the deceased’s GP.

Why are the police involved?

In some circumstances, the police act as Coroner’s Officers. It is not always possible for an officer to be in plain clothes, so although the officer may be in uniform, in this instance he or she will not be acting as a police officer. A full-time Coroner’s Officer may also attend.

A visit by the police should not make anybody 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.

You will be given a telephone number for the Coroner’s office and a Coroner’s Officer will be assigned and will be able to answer any questions you may have.

The duties of a Coroner’s Officer are:

  • to act as the representative of the Coroner in the investigation of any death
  • to gather all the circumstances surrounding the death of an individual
  • to attend and record scenes of death including out of hours on a callout basis
  • to liaise with the family 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 if one is necessary
  • to liaise with the witnesses regarding their involvement in the Inquest

What if the deceased dies unexpectedly in hospital?

If the death occurs in hospital, the Coroner can arrange for the post-mortem examination to be carried out by a pathologist other than one employed at or connected with that hospital, if a relative asks the Coroner to do so and if it does not cause an undue delay.

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

Where a death is referred to the Coroner and the person concerned has consented to organ donation, organ or tissue donation can still take place but the agreement of the Coroner is needed.

In such circumstances contact will be made with the Coroner and, having obtained the necessary information from medical staff, the Coroner will decide whether to agree to donation.

The Coroner is very anxious to support organ donation and to comply with the wishes of the person who has died but must also be satisfied that any donation will not interfere with the Coroner’s duty to investigate the cause of death. There are some circumstances where the Coroner will not be in a position to give permission.

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

Sometimes the Pathologist needs to carry out a more detailed investigation of particular organs in order 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 confirm 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 records.

More information is available from the Human Tissue Authority.

When can 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 contact the Registrar 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 an inquest or is awaiting further results from tissue analysis or other, then a full death certificate will not be available until after the inquest or investigation is concluded.

However to enable the family to deal with banks, insurance companies, pension providers, National Savings, or any other person who needs official confirmation of the death, the Coroner will, on request, issue an Interim Certificate as to the Fact Of Death, more commonly known as an Interim Death Certificate.

The interim certificate is not a death certificate. This is obtained from the Register Office at a later date.

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