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A coroner may conduct or order an inquest into the manner or cause of death, and investigate or confirm the identity of an unknown person who has been found dead within the coroner's jurisdiction.
An inquest is a judicial inquiry in common law jurisdictions, particularly one held to determine the cause of a person's death. Conducted by a judge, jury, or government official, an inquest may or may not require an autopsy carried out by a coroner or medical examiner. Generally, inquests are conducted only when deaths are sudden or unexplained. An inquest may be called at the behest of a coroner, judge, prosecutor, or, in some jurisdictions, upon a formal request from the public. A coroner's jury may be convened to assist in this type of proceeding. Inquest can also mean such a jury and the result of such an investigation. In general usage, inquest is also used to mean any investigation or inquiry.
In law, medicine, and statistics, cause of death is an official determination of conditions resulting in a human's death, which may be recorded on a death certificate. A cause of death is determined by a medical examiner. The cause of death is a specific disease or injury, in contrast to the manner of death which is a small number of categories like "natural", "accident", and "homicide", which have different legal implications.
In medieval times, English coroners were Crown officials who held financial powers and conducted some judicial investigations in order to counterbalance the power of sheriffs.
A sheriff is a government official, with varying duties, existing in some countries with historical ties to England, where the office originated. There is an analogous although independently developed office in Iceland that is commonly translated to English as sheriff, and this is discussed below.
The word coroner derives from the same source as the word crown , and it is believed to denote an officer of the Crown.
A crown is a traditional symbolic form of headwear, not hat, worn by a monarch or by a deity, for whom the crown traditionally represents power, legitimacy, victory, triumph, honor, and glory, as well as immortality, righteousness, and resurrection. In art, the crown may be shown being offered to those on Earth by angels. Apart from the traditional form, crowns also may be in the form of a wreath and be made of flowers, oak leaves, or thorns and be worn by others, representing what the coronation part aims to symbolize with the specific crown. In religious art, a crown of stars is used similarly to a halo. Crowns worn by rulers often contain jewels.
The Crown is the state in all its aspects within the jurisprudence of the Commonwealth realms and their sub-divisions. Legally ill-defined, the term has different meanings depending on context. It is used to designate the monarch in either a personal capacity, as Head of the Commonwealth, or as the king or queen of his or her realms. It can also refer to the rule of law; however, in common parlance 'The Crown' refers to the functions of government and the civil service.
Responsibilities of the coroner may include overseeing the investigation and certification of deaths related to mass disasters that occur within the coroner's jurisdiction. A coroner's office typically maintains death records of those who have died within the coroner's jurisdiction.
Depending on the jurisdiction, the coroner may adjudge the cause of death personally, or may act as the presiding officer of a special court (a "coroner's jury"). The office of coroner originated in medieval Englandand has been adopted in many countries whose legal systems have at some time been subject to English or United Kingdom law. The additional roles that a coroner may oversee in judicial investigations may be subject to the attainment of suitable legal and medical qualifications. The qualifications required of a coroner vary significantly between jurisdictions, and are described under the entry for each jurisdiction. Coroners, medical examiners, and forensic pathologists are different professions. They have different roles and responsibilities.
A court is any person or institution with authority to judge or adjudicate, often as a government institution, with the authority to adjudicate legal disputes between parties and carry out the administration of justice in civil, criminal, and administrative matters in accordance with the rule of law. In both common law and civil law legal systems, courts are the central means for dispute resolution, and it is generally understood that all people have an ability to bring their claims before a court. Similarly, the rights of those accused of a crime include the right to present a defense before a court.
A coroner's jury is a body convened to assist a coroner in an inquest, that is, in determining the identity of a deceased person and the cause of death. The laws on its role and function vary by jurisdiction.
English law is the common law legal system of England and Wales, comprising mainly criminal law and civil law, each branch having its own courts and procedures.
In Middle English, the word "coroner" referred to an officer of the Crown, derived from the French couronne and Latin corona, meaning "crown".
The office of the coroner dates from approximately the 11th century, shortly after the Norman conquest of England in 1066.
The office of coroner was formally established in England by Article 20 of the "Articles of Eyre" in September 1194 to "keep the pleas of the Crown" (Latin, custos placitorum coronae) from which the word "coroner" is derived.This role provided a local county official whose primary duty was to protect the financial interest of the Crown in criminal proceedings. The office of coroner is, "in many instances, a necessary substitute: for if the sheriff is interested in a suit, or if he is of affinity with one of the parties to a suit, the coroner must execute and return the process of the courts of justice." This role was qualified in Chapter 24 of Magna Carta in 1215, which states: "No sheriff, constable, coroner or bailiff shall hold pleas of our Crown." "Keeping the pleas" was an administrative task, while "holding the pleas" was a judicial one that was not assigned to the locally resident coroner but left to judges who traveled around the country holding assize courts. The role of custos rotulorum or keeper of the county records became an independent office, which after 1836 was held by the lord-lieutenant of each county.
The person who found a body from a death thought sudden or unnatural was required to raise the "hue and cry" and to notify the coroner.While coronial manuals written for sheriffs, bailiffs, justices of the peace and coroners were published in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, handbooks specifically written for coroners were distributed in England in the eighteenth century.
Coroners were introduced into Wales following its military conquest by Edward I of England in 1282 through the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284.
Australian coroners are responsible for investigating and determining the cause of death for those cases reported to them. In all states and territories, a coroner is a magistrate with legal training, and is attached to a local court. Four states – New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia – also have state coroners and specialised coronial courts. In Tasmania, the Chief Magistrate also acts as the state coroner.
In Canada the officer responsible for investigating all unnatural and natural unexpected, unexplained, or unattended deaths goes under the title "coroner" or "medical examiner" depending on location.While the title differs, however, they act in similar capacities. They do not determine civil or criminal responsibility, but instead make and offer recommendations to improve public safety and prevention of death in similar circumstances.
Coroner or Medical Examiner services are under the jurisdiction of provincial or territorial governments, generally within the public safety and security or justice portfolio. These services are headed by a Chief Coroner (or Chief Medical Examiner) and comprise coroners or medical examiners appointed by the executive council.
The provinces of Alberta,Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have a Medical Examiner system, meaning that all death investigations are conducted by specialist physicians trained in Forensic Pathology, with the assistance of other medical and law enforcement personnel. All other provinces run on a coroner system. In Prince Edward Island, and Ontario, all coroners are, by law, physicians. In the other provinces and territories with a coroner system, namely British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Quebec, New Brunswick, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon, coroners are not necessarily physicians but generally have legal, medical, or investigative backgrounds.
The Coroner's Court is responsible to inquire into the causes and circumstances of some deaths. The Coroner is a judicial officer who has the power to:
The Coroner makes orders after considering the pathologist's report.
The Coroners Service is a network of Coroners situated across Ireland, usually covering areas based on Ireland's traditional counties.They are appointed by local authorities as independent experts and must be either qualified doctors or lawyers. Their primary function is to investigate any sudden, unexplained, violent or unnatural death in order to allow a death certificate to be issued. Any death due to unnatural causes will require an inquest to be held.
Two coronial services operate in New Zealand. The older one deals only with deaths before midnight of 30 June 2007 that remain under investigation. The new system operates under the Coroners Act 2006, which:
In Poland, a coroner is a forensic doctor (colloquially called a forensic medicine), whose job is to legally identify patients who died. As a separate profession, it has existed since 2002, its introduction aimed to relieve home doctors and emergency physicians, as well as to prevent funeral corruption and corpses. The coroner is bound by business secret.
The responsibilities of the city coroner working on behalf of the city authorities in Poland include: declaring death, assessing the causes of death (natural or criminal), issuing relevant documents and keeping records.
A family doctor may also be called to declare a death. In the event of an emergency, the doctor diagnoses an ambulance from the ambulance service. Doctors who have the legal right to declare death cooperate with funeral institutions.
The position of the first coroners was chosen in Łódź for experienced forensic doctors, who are on call and cooperating with the ambulance service, will be notified of evidental death reports to go to the indicated address. Just in case, the coroners were also equipped with the apparatus necessary to provide first aid.
The widespread employment of coroners requires adjusting the relevant provisions regulating who may, according to the law in force, make an act of finding a human death. It is believed that forensic doctors have appropriate education and professional practice to perform the function of coroners.
In Sri Lanka, the Ministry of Justice appoints Inquirers into Sudden Deaths under the Code of Criminal Procedure to carryout an inquest into the death of a sudden, unexpected and suspicious nature. Some large cities such as Colombo and Kandy have a City Coroners' Court attached to the main city hospital, with a Coroner and Additional Coroner.
Parts of this article (those related to the consequences of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009) need to be updated. (March 2010)
In the United Kingdom a coroner is an independent judicial office holder, appointed and paid for by the relevant local authority. The Ministry of Justice, which is headed by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has the responsibility for the coronial law and policy only, and no operational responsibility.There are separate services for England and Wales, and for Northern Ireland. A different system applies in Scotland, which does not have a coroner service. The coroner service in England and Wales is supervised by the Chief Coroner, a judge appointed by the Lord Chief Justice after consulting the Lord Chancellor. He provides advice, guidance and training to coroners and aims to secure uniformity of practice throughout England and Wales. The post is currently part-time. The present Chief Coroner is Judge Mark Lucraft QC, who is one of the judges sitting at the Central Criminal Court. He has also been appointed a deputy judge of the High Court, and as such he normally sits as a member of the bench when that court has occasion to hold a judicial review of an inquest. England and Wales are divided into coroner districts by the Lord Chancellor, each district consisting of the area or areas of one or more local authorities. The relevant local authority, with the consent of the Chief Coroner and the Lord Chancellor, must appoint a Senior Coroner for the district. It must also appoint Area Coroners (in effect deputies to the Senior Coroner) and Assistant Coroners, to the number that the Lord Chancellor considers necessary in view of the physical character and population of the district. The cost of the coroner service for the district falls upon the local authority or authorities concerned, and thus ultimately upon the local inhabitants.
The majority of deaths are not investigated by the coroner. If the deceased has been under medical care, or has been seen by a doctor within 14 days of death, then the doctor can issue a death certificate. However if the deceased died without being seen by a doctor, or if they are unwilling to make a determination, the coroner will investigate the cause and manner of death. The coroner will also investigate when a death is deemed violent or unnatural, where the cause is unknown, where a death is the result of poisoning or industrial injury, or if it occurred in police custody or prison. Any person aware of a dead body lying in the district of a coroner has a duty to report it to the coroner; failure to do so is an offence. This can include bodies brought into England or Wales.
The coroner has a team of Coroner's Officers (previously often ex-police officers, but increasingly from a nursing or other paramedical background) who carry out the investigation on the coroner's behalf. A coroner's investigation may involve a simple review of the circumstances, ordering a post-mortem examination, or they may decide that an inquest is appropriate. When a person dies in the custody of the legal authorities (in police cells, or in prison), an inquest must be held. In England, inquests are usually heard without a jury (unless the coroner wants one). However, a case in which a person has died under the control of central authority must have a jury, as a check on the possible abuse of governmental power.
The coroner's court is a court of law, and accordingly, the coroner may summon witnesses. Those found lying are guilty of perjury.
Additional powers of the coroner may include the power of subpoena and attachment, the power of arrest, the power to administer oaths, and sequester juries of six during inquests.
Coroners also have a role in treasure trove cases. This role arose from the ancient duty of the coroner as a protector of the property of the Crown. It is now contained in the Treasure Act 1996. This jurisdiction is no longer exercised by local coroners, but by specialist "Coroners for Treasure" appointed by the Chief Coroner.
To become a coroner in England and Wales the applicant must be a qualified lawyer (solicitor/barrister), or a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), with at least 5 years' qualified experience.This reflects the role of a coroner: to determine the cause of death of a deceased in cases where the death was sudden, unexpected, occurred abroad, was suspicious in any way, or happened while the person was under the control of central authority (e.g., in police custody). Until 2013 a qualified medical practitioner could be appointed, but that is no longer possible. Any medical coroner still in office will either have been appointed before 2013, or, exceptionally, will hold both medical and legal qualifications.
Formerly, every justice of the High Court was, ex officio, a coroner for every district in England and Wales. This is no longer so; there are now no ex officio coroners. A senior judge is sometimes appointed ad hoc as a deputy coroner to undertake a high-profile inquest, such as those into the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales and the victims of the 2005 London bombings.
The coroner's jurisdiction is limited to determining who the deceased was and how, when and where they came by their death. When the death is suspected to have been either sudden with unknown cause, violent, or unnatural, the coroner decides whether to hold a post-mortem examination and, if necessary, an inquest.
The coroner's former power to name a suspect in the inquest verdict and commit them for trial has been abolished.The coroner's verdict sometimes is persuasive for the police and Crown Prosecution Service, but normally proceedings in the coroner's court are suspended until after the final outcome of any criminal case is known. More usually, a coroner's verdict is also relied upon in civil proceedings and insurance claims. The coroner commonly tells the jury which verdicts are lawfully available in a particular case.
The most common verdicts include:
Lawful killing includes lawful self-defence. There is no material difference between an accidental death verdict and one of misadventure.
Conclusions are arrived at on the balance of probabilities.
A verdict of neglect requires that there was a need for relevant care (such as nourishment, medical attention, shelter or warmth) identified, and there was an opportunity to offer or provide that care that was not taken. Neglect can be ruled an aggravating factor in other verdicts as well as a freestanding verdict.
An open verdict is given where the cause of death cannot be identified on the evidence available to the inquest.
A coroner giving a narrative verdict may choose to refer to the other verdicts.A narrative verdict may also consist of answers to a set of questions posed by the Coroner to himself or to the jury (as appropriate).
There are 98 coroners in England and Wales, covering 109 local authority areas.
Coronial services in Northern Ireland are broadly similar to those in England and Wales, including dealing with treasure trove cases under the Treasure Act 1996. Northern Ireland has three coroners, who oversee the province as a whole. They are assisted by Coroners Liaison Officers and a medical Officer.
In Scotland there are no longer coroners. Coroners were used in Scotland between about 1500 and 1800 when they ceased to be used. Now deaths requiring judicial examination are reported to the Procurator Fiscal and dealt with by Fatal Accident Inquiries conducted by the Sheriff for the area.[ citation needed ]
As of 2004 [update] , of the 2,342 death investigation offices in the United States, 1,590 were coroners' offices, 82 of which served jurisdictions of more than 250,000 people. Qualifications for coroners are set by individual states and counties in the U.S., and vary widely. In many jurisdictions, little or no training is required, even though a coroner may overrule a forensic pathologist in naming a cause of death. Some coroners are elected, and others appointed. Some coroners hold office by virtue of holding another office: in Nebraska, the county district attorney is the coroner; in many counties in Texas, the Justice of the Peace may be in charge of death investigation; in other places, the sheriff is the coroner.
In different jurisdictions the terms "coroner" and "medical examiner" are defined differently. In some places, stringent rules require that the medical examiner be a forensic pathologist. In others, the medical examiner must be a physician, though not necessarily a forensic pathologist or even a pathologist; physicians with no experience in forensic medicine have become medical examiners.In others, such as Wisconsin, each county sets standards, and in some, the medical examiner does not need any medical or educational qualifications.
Not all U.S. jurisdictions use a coroner system for medicolegal death investigation—some are on a medical examiner system, others are on a mixed coroner–medical examiner system. In the U.S., the terms "coroner" and "medical examiner" vary widely in meaning by jurisdiction, as do qualifications and duties for these offices.
Local laws define the deaths a coroner must investigate, but most often include those that are sudden, unexpected, and have no attending physician—and deaths that are suspicious or violent.In some places in the United States, a coroner has other special powers, such as the ability to arrest the county sheriff.
Duties always include determining the cause, time, and manner of death. This uses the same investigatory skills of a police detective in most cases, because the answers are available from the circumstances, scene, and recent medical records. In many American jurisdictions, any death not certified by the person's own physician must be referred to the medical examiner. If an individual dies outside of his/her state of residence, the coroner of the state in which the death took place issues the death certificate. Only a small percentage of deaths require an autopsy to determine the time, cause and manner of death.
In some states, additional functions are handled by the coroner. For example, in Louisiana, coroners are involved in the determination of mental illness of living persons. In Georgia, the coroner has the same powers as a county sheriff to execute arrest warrants and serve process, and in certain situations where there is no sheriff, in addition to conducting cause and manner of death investigations and inquests,the coroner officially acts as sheriff for the county. Also the Coroner is the only official who can arrest the sheriff of a county. This is also the case in Colorado. Also in North Carolina, the coroner exists in approximately 65 counties by law, but is only an active office on ten. In Kentucky, section 72.415 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes gives coroners and their deputies the full power and authority of peace officers. This includes the power of arrest and the authority to carry firearms. In North Carolina, in the counties that have coroners, they are set forth as common law peace officers, yet the coroner of the county also has judicial powers; not only to investigate cause and manner of death, but to conduct inquests, issue court orders, to empanel a coroner's jury and to act as Sheriff in certain cases or even arrest the Sheriff for cause. Beginning in 2015, the NC Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) began optional training for coroners to become special assistant medical examiner investigators (NC CH130A & 152). In Indiana the coroner is the only law enforcement officer who has the authority to arrest the county sheriff, incarcerate him, and take command of the county jail. The coroner is also the only official who may serve the sheriff with civil process. In New York City, the office of coroner was actually abolished in 1915, since before that time, having medical knowledge was not actually a requirement, leading to much abuse of position.
The office of coroner is common to most countries with a British colonial influence, but unusual outside of that. The equivalent offices in other nations follow the medical examiner model, or are part of the police and judiciary. In France the relevant official is the médecin légiste (fr) and in Italy the medico legale(it); in Germany it is the Gerichtmediziner(de). In Spain and Portugal investigations are carried out by a forensic pathologist under the supervision of an examining magistrate (a juez de instrucción(es), juiz de instrução)).
In Japan the office of kenshi-kan (検視官)(ja) generally translates as "coroner", but holders of the office are police detectives with field experience, thus resembling scenes of crime officers or crime scene investigators in English-speaking countries. A kenshi-kan typically holds the rank of captain, and has studied forensic medicine and investigation techniques at the National Police Academy.
(The following entries are organized by author's last name)
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Although coroners are often depicted in police dramas as a source of information for detectives, there are a number of fictional coroners who have taken particular focus on television. (The following entries are alphabetized by program title.)
Inquests in England and Wales are held into sudden and unexplained deaths and also into the circumstances of discovery of a certain class of valuable artefacts known as "treasure trove". In England and Wales, inquests are the responsibility of a coroner, who operates under the jurisdiction of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.
Forensic pathology is pathology that focuses on determining the cause of death by examining a corpse. A post mortem is performed by a medical examiner, usually during the investigation of criminal law cases and civil law cases in some jurisdictions. Coroners and medical examiners are also frequently asked to confirm the identity of a corpse. Also see forensic medicine.
A medical examiner is an official trained in pathology that investigates deaths that occur under unusual or suspicious circumstances, to perform post-mortem examinations, and in some jurisdictions to initiate inquests.
A fatal accident inquiry is a Scottish judicial process which investigates and determines the circumstances of some deaths occurring in Scotland. Until 2009, they did not apply to any deaths occurring in other jurisdictions, when the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 extended the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1976 to service personnel at the discretion of the Chief Coroner or the Secretary of State. The equivalent process in England and Wales is an inquest. A major review of the fatal accident inquiries was undertaken by Lord Cullen of Whitekirk, at the request of the Scottish Government, which resulted in the passing of the Inquiries into Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc. (Scotland) Act 2016.
In common law jurisdictions, the generic term officer of the court is applied to all those who, in some degree in function of their professional or similar qualifications, have a part in the legal system. Officers of the court should not be confused with court officers, the law enforcement personnel who work in courts.
The open verdict is an option open to a coroner's jury at an inquest in the legal system of England and Wales. The verdict means the jury confirms the death is suspicious, but is unable to reach any other verdicts open to them. Mortality studies consider it likely that the majority of open verdicts are recorded in cases of suicide where the intent of the deceased could not be proved, although the verdict is recorded in many other circumstances.
The Coroner's Court of New South Wales is the court in the Australian state of New South Wales where legal proceedings, in the form of an inquest or inquiry, are held and presided over by the State Coroner of New South Wales, a Deputy State Coroner of New South Wales, or another coroner of the state of New South Wales.
The Coroner's Court of Western Australia is a court which has exclusive jurisdiction over the remains of a person and the power to make findings in respect of the cause of death of a person in Western Australia.
The name of "Coroners Court" is the generic name given to proceedings in which a Coroner holds an inquest in Victoria.
The Coroners Court of Tasmania is the generic name given to the Coronial Division of the Magistrates Court of Tasmania. It is a court which has exclusive jurisdiction over the remains of a person and the power to make findings in respect of the cause of death of a person, a fire or an explosion in Tasmania.
The Coroner's Court of South Australia is a court which has exclusive jurisdiction over the remains of a person and the power to make findings in respect of the cause of death of a person or fire in South Australia, a state of Australia.
The Coroner's Court of the Australian Capital Territory is a court which has exclusive jurisdiction over the remains of a person and the power to make findings in respect of the cause of death of a person or fire in Australian Capital Territory.
The title of Coroners Court is the name given to proceedings in which a coroner holds an inquest or an inquiry in the Northern Territory.
The Forensic Medicine Division of the Applied Sciences Group of the Health Sciences Authority is a forensic medical consultancy service of the government of Singapore. The Centre provides professional consultancy services in the field of forensic medicine, primarily to law enforcement in support of the coronial death investigation system in Singapore as well as criminal investigations into homicidal deaths. The Division operates a mortuary facility in Block 9, a Singapore General Hospital building along Outram Road.
Paul Knapman DL was Her Majesty's coroner for Westminster, from 1980 to 2011. His responsibility for investigating sudden deaths as an independent judicial officer saw him preside over numerous notable cases.
A coroner in Washington state is a quasi-judicial, public official principally charged with the certification of human death. It is completely identical in authority to the parallel office of medical examiner, which also exists in the state. Washington uses a "mixed system" of death investigation with some counties employing coroners, and some employing medical examiners.
Elliot M. Gross was an American forensic pathologist who served as the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City from 1979 until 1989 during the Koch administration.
The National Coronial Information System (NCIS) is a national database of coronial information on every death reported a Coroner in Australia from July 2000 and New Zealand from July 2007.. It assists coroners, their staff, public sector agencies, researchers and other agencies in obtaining coronial data to inform death and injury prevention activities.
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