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A coroner or forensics examiner is an official chiefly responsible for investigating deaths, particularly some of those happening under unusual circumstances, and determining the cause of death. Depending on the jurisdiction, the coroner may adjudge the cause himself, or act as the presiding officer of a special court (a "coroner's jury"). The office originated in mediaeval England and has been adapted in many countries which have at some time been under the influence of England or the United Kingdom. The additional roles concerning other judicial investigations and the legal and medical qualifications (if any) of the coroner vary significantly between jurisdictions and are described under the entry for each jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions, particularly those with a legal system not originating in the English system, have a medical examiner rather than a coroner.


Coroners in Australia derive their authority and functions from the ancient English office. The office of coroner came to Australia in the First Fleet with Governor Arthur Phillip having the authority to act as a coroner and appoint coroners as necessary.

In all states and territories of Australia, the office of coroner continues to this day.


In Canadamarker, two systems exist in investigating all unnatural, sudden, unexpected, unexplained or unattended deaths - coroner or medical examiner. While the name differs, they act in similar capacities as 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 services in Canada are under the jurisdiction of Provincial or Territorial government, within the public safety & security or justice portfolio depending on location. Coroner service is headed by a Chief Coroner (or Chief Medical Examiner) and is supported by a team of coroners or medical examiners are appointed by the executive council.

In the Province of Albertamarker, Manitobamarker, Ontariomarker, Nova Scotiamarker, Newfoundland and Labradormarker & Prince Edward Islandmarker, all coroners are, by law, physicians.

In all other provinces and territories, namely British Columbiamarker, Saskatchewanmarker, Quebecmarker, New Brunswickmarker, Northwest Territoriesmarker, Nunavutmarker & Yukonmarker, coroners are not necessarily physicians but generally have legal, medical or investigative background.

England and Wales

In England and Wales a coroner is a judicial officer, not appointed nor paid for by the local authority. The coronial system is under the control of the Ministry of Justice, which is headed by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.


The post of coroner is ancient, dating from approximately the 11th century, shortly after the Norman conquest of Englandmarker 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" or in Latin "custos placitorum coronas" 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 which was not assigned to the locally resident coroner but left to judges who travelled 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 whose death was thought to be sudden or unnatural was required to raise the "hue and cry" and to notify the coroner.

Coroners were introduced into Walesmarker following its military conquest by Edward I of England in 1282 through the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284.


To become a coroner in England and Wales the applicant must be a lawyer (solicitor/barrister) or doctor of at least five years standing. 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 cells).

Aside from the usual coroners, certain persons are ex officio coroners in limited circumstances—for example the Lord Chancellor has been historically allowed to certify the death of someone killed in rebellion.


The coroner's jurisdiction is limited to finding the name of the deceased and the cause of death. When the death was unexpected, violent or unnatural, the coroner will decide whether to hold a post-mortem and, if necessary, an inquest.


The coroner's former power to name a suspect for trial upon inquisition has been abolished. The coroner's verdict will sometimes be 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 will also frequently be relied upon in civil proceedings and insurance claims.

The coroner will commonly direct the jury as to 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.

The verdicts of suicide and death by natural causes require proving beyond reasonable doubt. Other verdicts 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 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).


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 (for example, when there is a death in the military abroad the body is returned to RAF Brize Nortonmarker and so is dealt with by Oxfordshire Coroners Court). The coroner has a team of Coroners Officers (previously often ex-police officers, but increasingly so from a nursing or other paramedical background) who carry out the investigation on the coroner's behalf. On the basis of the investigation, the coroner decides whether 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, and people found to be 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.

Hong Kong

The Coroner's Court is responsible to inquire into the causes and circumstances of certain deaths. The Coroner is a judicial officer who has the power to:
  • grant burial orders
  • grant cremation orders
  • grant waivers of autopsy
  • grant autopsy orders
  • grant exhumation orders
  • grant orders to remove dead bodies outside Hong Kong
  • order police investigations of death
  • order inquests to be held
  • approve removal and use of body parts of the dead body
  • issue certificates of fact of death

The Coroner makes orders after considering the pathologist's report.

New Zealand

Two Coronial services are in operation in New Zealand, the older one dealing only with those deaths which have occurred prior to midnight on 30 June 2007 which remain under investigation. The newer system operates under the Coroners Act 2006.

Northern Ireland

Coronial services in Northern Ireland are broadly similar to those in England and Wales, including dealing with Treasure Trove under the Treasure Act 1996.


Scotland has no system of Coronial investigation. Deaths requiring judicial examination are dealt with by Fatal Accident Inquiries.

United States

Coroners in the United Statesmarker are usually county-level officers, are often elected (rather than appointed) officials, and usually do not need to hold any medical qualification. As finders of fact, they retain quasi-judicial powers such as the power of subpoena, and in some states they also have the power to impanel juries of inquest, but unlike their British equivalents, they are not judicial officers, instead considered to be executive branch officials.

In some states the coroner and the sheriff are one and the same.

Many jurisdictions have replaced the elected coroner with a Medical Examiner (often referred to by the initials "M.E."), who must be a physician, and is most often a specialist in pathology or forensic medicine. In some jurisdictions, a medical examiner must be both a doctor and a lawyer.

The medical examiner is most often an appointed official. This has been part of a move toward professionalizing a job increasingly involved with advanced scientific techniques. In larger cities (for instance, New York Citymarker) and more populous counties, the post may be that of "chief medical examiner", heading an office with M.E.s and deputy M.E.s on staff to handle individual cases.

Other jurisdictions, such as Monterey County, Californiamarker, have merged the legal competencies of a coroner into the office of the Sheriff, whose medical duties as coroner are then delegated to a professional forensic staff of medical examiners, technicians, and such.


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 their 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 Louisianamarker, coroners are involved in determination of mental illness of living persons. In Georgiamarker, 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 (described in Title 15, Chapter 16, Section 8 of Georgia law), they officially act as sheriff for the county. In Kentuckymarker, 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.

Artistic depictions

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 television series' Quincy, M.E., its Canadian ancestor Wojeck, and Da Vinci's Inquest each have a coroner as their title character. In addition, the coroner is a significant character on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and the lead character in the tv-series Crossing Jordan is a Medical Examiner.

Dr. G: Medical Examiner is a reality television show shown on the Discovery Health Channel that shows dramatic reenactments of autopsies performed by real-life medical examiner Dr. Jan Garavaglia. The shows also include interviews with Dr. Garavaglia, family members, and others connected with the cases she has worked on in Florida and Texas.

Patricia Cornwell is a crime novelist well known for her creation of Dr. Kay Scarpetta, a fictional Medical Examiner based on Virginia's former Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Marcella Fierro.

Bernard Knight, a former Home Office Pathologist and Professor of Forensic Pathology at the University of Wales College of Medicine is well known for his Crowner John Mysteries series set in 12th century Devonmarker.

Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard, portrayed by David McCallum, is a fictional medical examiner on the American television crime series NCIS.

See also


External links

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