Coroners and Coroner’s offices
Who is a coroner?
A coroner is an independent judicial officer. This means that they are like a judge, but they sit in a Coroner’s Court as opposed to a criminal court. They have certain legal obligations and there is a certain legal remit of the inquest process which they have to adhere to. Coroners before 2013 could be either a lawyer or a doctor, but if they were recruited after 2013, they now have to be a lawyer. This means they have to have experience in the law and they will sit independently. They are accountable only to the Lord Chancellor, so they can have a very independent, non-biased understanding and view of the inquest process.
How does the Coroner get involved after a suicide?
A death such as suicide will always be reported to the coroner. The coroner’s officer, on behalf of the coroner, will try and gain a better understanding of what happened to the person who took their own life. They will gather evidence and information to help them understand the circumstances leading to that suicide. They are required to start the process as soon as possible and this is known as ‘opening an inquest’. This is usually a brief meeting in the coroner’s court, allowing them to ‘adjourn’ (postpone) the full inquest to a later date to allow sufficient time for information to be gathered.
What happens next?
The coroner’s officer will contact the next of kin and explain to them what will happen next. There may then be some time between that first contact and the coroner’s office contacting them again, because in between that time the coroner’s office will investigate that death and speak to other people.
The coroner’s officer may speak to the police, witnesses, your family, and anyone else who may have information, or who spoke to the person in the last 24 hours of their life. They will also speak to the person’s GP.
All of this information will go into the coroner’s case file – or report – which they will bring to the inquest. They may use this file to call witnesses to the inquest, too.