Coroners

Introduction

A coroner is an independent official with legal responsibility for the investigation of sudden and unexplained deaths. Coroners are appointed for particular districts within a local authority area by the local authority (the coroner for the Dublin district is appointed by the Minister for Justice and Equality). While the coroner system is subject to the general supervision of the Minister, coroners are independent in their function. The principal legislation that governs the role and responsibilities of coroners is the Coroners Act 1962 as amended.

Role of the coroner

The role of the coroner is to enquire into the circumstances of sudden, unexplained, violent and unnatural deaths. This may require a post-mortem examination, sometimes followed by an inquest. The post-mortem is carried out by a pathologist, who acts as the coroner's agent for this purpose. The coroner's inquiry initially is concerned with establishing whether or not death was due to natural causes.

The coroner essentially establishes the "who, when, where and how" of unexplained death. A coroner is not permitted to consider civil or criminal liability; they must simply establish the facts. If a death is due to unnatural causes, then an inquest must be held by law.

A coroner will not be involved in cases where a person died from a natural illness or disease for which the deceased was being treated by a doctor within one month prior to death. In this case, the doctor will issue the medical certificate of the cause of death. The death can then be registered and a death certificate can be obtained.

Sudden death

In cases of sudden, unnatural or violent death, there is a legal responsibility on the doctor, registrar of deaths, funeral undertaker, householder and every person in charge of any institution or premises in which the deceased person was residing at the time of their death to report such a death to the coroner. The death may be reported to a member of the Garda Síochána not below the rank of sergeant who will notify the coroner. However under common law, any person may notify the coroner of the circumstances of a particular death.

The Garda Síochána will assist the coroner in arranging a formal identification of the body by a member of the family or a relative of the deceased. The Gardaí will send the coroner a report on the circumstances of the death. The fact that relatives may be met at the hospital by a uniformed Garda, or that a Garda may call to the home to take a statement, does not mean that the death is regarded as suspicious. The Gardaí will in most cases be acting also as coroner's officers.

Cause of death

In situations where a medical certificate of the cause of death is not available, the coroner will arrange for a post-mortem examination of the body. If the post-mortem examination shows that death was due to natural causes, and there is no need for an inquest, a Coroner's Certificate will be issued to the Registrar of Births and Deaths who will then register the death and issue the death certificate.

If death is due to unnatural causes, the coroner is obliged to hold an inquest. The death will be registered by means of a Coroner's Certificate when the inquest is concluded (or adjourned in some cases).

Prior to the inquest (or while waiting for the post-mortem report), the coroner's office will provide an Interim Certificate of the Fact of Death, which may be acceptable to banks, insurance companies and other institutions.

Rules

The following deaths must be reported to the coroner.

Deaths occurring at home or other place of residence:

  • Where the deceased was not attended by a doctor during the last illness
  • Where the deceased was not seen and treated by a doctor within one month prior to the date of death
  • Where the death was sudden and unexpected
  • Where the death may have resulted from an accident, suicide or homicide
  • Where the cause of death is unknown or uncertain

Deaths occurring in hospitals:

  • Where the death may have resulted from an accident, suicide or homicide
  • Where any question of negligence or misadventure arises in relation to the treatment of the deceased
  • Where a patient dies before a diagnosis is made and the general practitioner is also unable to certify the cause
  • When the death occurred whilst a patient was undergoing an operation or was under the effect of an anaesthetic
  • Where the death occurred during or as a result of any invasive procedure
  • Where the death resulted from any industrial disease
  • Where a death was due to neglect or lack of care (including self-neglect)
  • Where the death occurred in a mental hospital

Deaths reported to the coroner by a Garda:

  • Where a death may have resulted from an accident, suicide or homicide
  • Where a death occurred in suspicious circumstances
  • Where there is an unexpected or unexplained death
  • Where a dead body is found
  • Where there is no doctor who can certify the cause of death

Other categories of death reportable include:

  • The death of a prisoner
  • Sudden infant deaths
  • Certain stillbirths
  • The death of a child in care
  • Where a body is to be removed abroad

The Coroners Service provides more information on deaths which must be reported on its website, coroner.ie.

Where to apply

Coroner districts (there is one coroner per district) are roughly equivalent to local authority districts. (However, in some cases, there are a number of coroners in the same county). Contact information for the coroner for your district as well as information on the Coroner Service is available at coroner.ie.

Page edited: 23 June 2016

Language

Gaeilge

Related Documents

  • Inquests
    Inquests are official enquiries into the cause of a sudden, unexplained or violent death of a person.
  • Victims of crime and the coroner
    Relationship between victims of crime and the coroner when there is an enquiry into a death in Ireland.
  • When someone dies unexpectedly
    An overview of what happens when someone dies as a result of an accident or in unexplained circumstances.

Contact Us

If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.