Coroner's Investigations:

A practical guide to the release of evidence

 

The main aim of this page is to ensure that all parties involved in the release of evidence held by the coroner understand what constitutes evidence, why the evidence is being held, when it can be released and how to obtain its release.

It cannot cover in detail all aspects of the law surrounding the work of the coroner, but it is hoped that it will be a practical guide for those who find themselves faced with the difficult task of assisting loved ones who have lost a family member or close relative.

What is evidence and why does the coroner require it?

The coroner must answer the 4 questions

  • Who is the deceased
  • How did he die
  • When did he die
  • Where did he die.

Anything that helps the coroner to answer any of these questions may be considered as evidence by the coroner.

When investigating, the coroner must use the "best evidence" possible to provide the answers to those questions. This means that anything or anyone with direct information that will assist the coroner in answering the four questions will be used by the Coroner during his or her investigations and inquiry.

While an item or document is considered "best evidence" then it may need to be retained by the coroner.

What might be classed as evidence?

Every investigation into a death is individual and it would be impossible to give a finite list of items that may constitute evidence. An example that most people would be familiar with would be the use of written statements taken from those who can provide evidence to assist the coroner in answering the four questions.

However, tangible items such as the body of the deceased, a car or a ship, may also be classed as evidence provided that they

a. assist in answering the four questions; and

b. are "best evidence"

When can evidence be released?

Rules 48 of the Coroner's Rules states that evidence shall be retained by the coroner until:

"he is satisfied that [it] is not likely to be, or will no longer be, required for the purposes of any other legal proceedings, and shall then, if a request for its delivery has been made by a person appearing to the coroner to be entitled to the possession thereof, be delivered to that person, or, if no such request has been made, be destroyed or otherwise disposed of as the coroner thinks fit."

Practically, this means that evidence cannot be released by the coroner to an individual or organisation until

a. a request for release has been received; and

b. It is no longer required for the purpose of any legal proceedings

The phrase "for the purpose of any legal proceedings", includes investigations not just by the coroner but also by other authorities with the power to bring legal proceedings, such as the police and the fisheries authorities.

Where a request for evidence to be released is received, the coroner will consider whether the evidence is required, firstly by him or her or those investigating on his or her behalf and will then move on to consider whether any other authorities may require the evidence for the purpose of their own legal proceedings.

This does not mean that where an investigation is on going the evidence will automatically be retained until the investigation is concluded; once the coroner is satisfied the evidence in question has provided all the useful information it can for the purposes of the investigation, he or she will then be able to consider it's release.

An example of this relates to the body of the deceased. Where a sudden, unnatural or violent death occurs that the coroner considers he or she needs to investigate, he or she will then determine if a post mortem examination is required. This examination will allow the coroner to obtain all the information he or she can from the body to help him or her to answer the four questions.

Only once the examination has taken place and the body has provided all the information that it can, would the coroner then be at liberty to consider release of the body. Until such a time as the evidence the body provides has been recorded by the post-mortem examination, the coroner cannot release it.

The coroner has something that we would like released. How do I go about obtaining release of it?

The first step in obtaining the release of an item that has been retained by the coroner is to request its release.

The method of requesting release depends upon whether you are seeking the release of the deceased's body, a copy of the post mortem report or the release of or any other item.

Release of the body

A request for release of a body for burial within the Falkland Islands does not need to be made to the coroner; the coroner will issue an order releasing the body for a funeral as soon as possible but this will not be done until all required medical examinations have been completed. The release order will be sent directly to the hospital and the Public Works Department so that funeral arrangements can be made.

If you want to take the body outside the Falkland Islands for burial then you cannot do so without notifying the coroner. The form that you need to complete to obtain authorisation is called a COR 25.

RELEASE OF A COPY OF THE POST MORTEM REPORT

A request for release of a copy of the post mortem report may be made on form COR 27

Release of any other item

A request for release of any other item may be made on form COR 26.

Upon receipt of either form, the coroner will consider the application and determine whether any further investigation is needed. The decision will be communicated to the applicant within 5 working days and all relevant paperwork will be prepared within this time frame.

There's going to be a post-mortem. How will I know when the body can be released?

Rules 6 of the Coroner's Rules specifies the persons who are entitled to know about the date, time and place that post-mortem is to take place. These include, but are not restricted to, relatives of the deceased, the Chief of Police and the hospital. All other persons are not entitled to be notified of the post-mortem arrangements.

I want to know more about what is going on in the inquiry into the death. What can you tell me?

Inquests are generally public courts, which means that any person is entitled to attend to observe hearings.

Any information that is made available to the public via the inquest hearing may be given to you by the court staff, should you request it.

Where you are requesting access to information that has not been made public then that information cannot be given to you unless you are an "interested person".

Interested persons are those who have an interest that is recognised to go beyond the interest of ordinary members of the public and they are therefore given rights greater than those of the public, including the right to examine witnesses in an inquest. Some persons or categories of persons are automatically classed as interested person, such as children, parents or the spouse of the deceased.

If you or your organisation believes you are a properly interested person then it is open to you to make an application to the coroner to be classed as such. This may be done orally at any hearing or alternatively your application may be made in writing at any time by sending through your / your organisations details, the details of the deceased and the reasons why you believe you should be classed as an interested person.

Please note, the coroner will make a decision as to who is an interested person on a case by case basis. However, case law indicates that only those who themselves hold some personal interest in the case and are not merely interested as representatives should be held to be properly interested persons.