What Does a Coroner Do?

Find out more about the role of the coroner and when they are needed

Last updated: 6 June 2017

When a loved one dies unexpectedly, a coroner may be called to investigate the death. This is a regular occurrence in the UK, with almost half of all deaths requiring the involvement of a coroner.

The role of the coroner

Coroners are appointed by local councils to investigate when the circumstances surrounding a death are unclear or unknown. This may include when:

  • The cause of death is unknown
  • The death was unnatural or violent
  • The person died in prison or custody
  • The identity of the person who has died is uncertain or unknown
  • A medical certificate isn’t available

The coroner’s job is to find out how, when and where the person died for official records, as well as for the benefit of the bereaved.

In some cases, the coroner will decide that the cause of death is clear. They will then issue a certificate to the registrar stating that a post-mortem examination is not needed. You will then be able to register the death with the registrar.

A coroner may decide that a post-mortem examination needed if the cause of death or circumstances surrounding the death are still not clear after an initial inspection.

Post-mortem examinations

Post-mortem examinations, sometimes called autopsies, are conducted by a pathologist and involve studying the body for evidence of how the person died.

If the post-mortem is successful and reveals the cause of death, the coroner will send a form to the registrar stating the cause of death. They will then release the body so that a funeral can take place.

If the post-mortem report fails to find the cause of death or suggests that a crime may have been committed, the coroner will begin an inquest.

Find out more about post-mortem examinations.

Coroner inquests

An inquest is a legal investigation into a death. The coroner must hold an inquest if they believe that the person died of a violent or unnatural death, or if the person died in police custody or prison.

You cannot register a death until the inquest is complete. However, the coroner can provide an interim death certificate, which will allow you to apply for probate and hold a funeral.

Inquests sometimes require the assistance of a jury, and if the investigation reveals that the death was the result of a criminal act, a prosecution may take place.

Find out more about coroner’s inquests.