Coroners are quasi-judicial, medico-legal professionals. They are appointed by local government authorities, but carry out their duties under the aegis of the national judicial framework.
The main responsibilities undertaken by coroners involve investigating instances of abnormal, violent or prison-based deaths. These cases may be referred to coroners by various authorities or agencies, such as the registrar of deaths, prison authorities, local police or medical personnel.
The coroner’s first-level task is to determine the nature of death, i.e. natural, accidental, deliberate or uncertain/unsubstantiated. This is accomplished by liaising with the victim’s personal physician and asking them for information on the deceased’s pre-existing conditions. They may also ask them for their professional opinion based on their knowledge of patient history and the symptoms or conditions which are likely to have affected the actual cause of death.
Where natural or accidental causes are determined to have caused the fatality, the coroner will be required to send a report to the reporting entity and the registrar of deaths.
Where the attending doctor is unable to provide any clarity, the coroner refers the case to a state-approved pathologist who, in turn, performs an extensive autopsy, comprised of diagnostic and forensic tests to resolve causation issues.
Where a definitive decision is made, i.e. determining the cause of death to be natural or accidental, the coroner will file the necessary reports.
The second-level task, initiated by the coroner, is to announce an inquest. This happens in cases where the pathologist is unable to positively identify the cause(s) of death, or circumstantial evidence is found, which may or may not lead to a ruling of deliberate or unnatural causes.
Inquests are quasi-judicial hearings which are presided over by the coroner, to investigate the background and events which led to the death.
This is facilitated by obtaining all the relevant records and case reports from medical and police personnel, statements from witnesses and bystanders, family, friends, colleagues and any other individuals who can shed light on the victim’s background or information on the events which occurred before the time of death.
Following this, a comprehensive inquest report is prepared by the coroner.
Salary & benefits
Salaries paid to coroners depend on the nature of the appointment, the location and the total population of the jurisdiction allocated to them.
Coroners working on a part-time basis receive salaries between £10,000 and £50,000, while full-time coroners receive salaries ranging between £85,000 and £100,000.
Coroners work regular office hours from Monday to Friday while they are conducting preliminary investigations, inquests or general administrative work.
However, they are also required to be available at any time to take up referrals as and when they are made. Failing this, they must assign an authorised representative in their absence.
Physicians and solicitors with five or more years of post-qualification experience are eligible to apply for a coroner’s post.
The application process involves searching for available vacancies across the country for the assistant or deputy coroner positions and then applying directly to the incumbent coroners.
Training & progression
Apart from procedural and administrative training, there is no separate training programme. Coroners are required to fall back on their existing experience and expertise to carry out their duties.
Similarly, there are no avenues or opportunities for further progression in this role, except for when deputies and assistants move into the coroner’s role, if and when the current individual resigns or retires.