What is a Coroner?
Coroners are independent judicial office holders. Most coroners are qualified lawyers but some are doctors.
In Cheshire we have a full time Senior Coroner and a full time Area Coroner. The Area Coroner is the Senior Coroner’s deputy. Cheshire also has several Assistant Coroners who work in a part-time capacity. Area and Assistant Coroners are qualified in the same way as the Senior Coroner. They have the same authority as a Senior Coroner when dealing with deaths and hearing inquests.
The role of the Coroner
Coroners will investigate where a death was violent or unnatural, where the cause of death is unknown, where the deceased died in custody or otherwise in state detention or if the death requires investigation for some other reason.
When a coroner receives notification that a body is lying within their coroner area they will carry out inquiries and investigations as appropriate. Coroners have power to have a body taken to the mortuary and to retain the body for so long as is required to carry out investigations. This can include authorising a post-mortem examination in order to find out what was the medical cause of death.
The nature and extent of the coroner’s investigations will vary depending upon the case. This may involve consulting with the doctor who last treated the person who has died; a post‑mortem examination may be needed; in some cases the coroner will open an investigation or an inquest.
The coroner will always be mindful funeral arrangements and will try to avoid interfering with these arrangements while making sure that all appropriate investigations are properly carried out.
In Cheshire the coroners are supported by a team of administrative staff as well as a team of coroner’s officers. The administrative staff are employed by the local authority; the coroner’s officers are employed by Cheshire Police.
The coroner’s officers receive reports of deaths and they make various inquiries on behalf of the coroner. Coroner’s officers communicate with the deceased person’s relatives on behalf of the coroner. If the coroner opens an investigation or an inquest into a person’s death a coroner’s officer will be nominated to be the personal point of contact with the next of kin or the family of the person who has died.
If an inquest is opened into a death a police officer may contact the family of the person who has died. This does not necessarily mean that there are any suspicious circumstances surrounding the death. It may simply be that a statement is required to be taken or that other evidence is required to be obtained on behalf of the coroner. The police may take the statement or obtain the evidence on the coroner’s behalf.
Inquest hearings are held at the Coroner’s Court. In Cheshire the main Coroner’s Court is located in Warrington at the Coroner’s Office. Inquests are also held in Chester (the Magistrates Court), Crewe (Municipal Building) and Macclesfield (Town Hall).