Frequently Asked Questions
What is a reportable death?
Why is the death of my loved one required to be reported?
Most deaths that occur in the community do not need to be reported to the Coroner. (The Coroner only investigates between 10% and 20% of deaths.) Reportable deaths are a special category of death that is required, by law, to be investigated by an independent external judicial process (The Coroners Court).
While it is a commonly held belief that Coroners just investigate suspicious cases, deaths linked to possible criminal activity only represent 1% or 2% of the investigations reported to the Coroner. The most common investigations undertaken the coroner are into deaths from natural causes, where the cause of death is unclear or unknown. Coroners have a special responsibility to investigate deaths that have occurred in police custody or prison or where the person has been in the care of the State. The other major category of deaths investigated by the Coroner that are those that are directly or indirectly the result of an accident or injury. This may include, but is not limited to:
public transport fatalities
Coroners also investigate other types of unnatural deaths which may include suicides, poisonings and overdoses.
What is the role of the Coroner?
The Coroner is not a Doctor. Coroners are lawyers who hold a judicial appointment to the Coroners Court. The role of the coroner is to investigate deaths that parliament has decided need an independent investigation. Where possible, a Coroner must find out the identity of the person who died, the cause of the death and, in some situations, the circumstances surrounding the death or fire.
Coroners also hold inquests in some cases (approximately 2% of cases) and will often recommend ways to help prevent similar deaths and fires in the future.
Coroners do not hold criminal trials or make civil rulings regarding negligence. A Coroner cannot find a person guilty or innocent of a criminal offence but they can refer cases to the Office of Public Prosecutions where they believe that a criminal review is appropriate.
In circumstances where a coroner's investigation into a death involves a homicide, he or she will probably wait until any criminal justice process has been completed before making any findings and these will probably focus on the circumstances of the death in order to establish whether it could have been prevented.
For further information:
The Coronial Admissions & Enquiries Office (CAE)
What can I expect in the First 24 Hours?
The administrative and nursing staff of the coronial admissions office will contact the family shortly after a death to help work out who is the senior next of kin. They will explain the first steps in the coronial process to the family and answer any questions that the family may have. If you have not received a phone call within 48 hours or would like immediate information you can call the coronial admissions office at any time on 1300 309 519.
How is the senior next of kin determined and what is their role?
They will be notified about any medical procedures required and will also be provided with updates on the progress of the investigation, and any medical examination reports provided to the coroner.
According to Law the senior next of kin is determined by the following order of priority:
if the person, immediately before death had a spouse or domestic partner — the spouse or domestic partner; or
if the person immediately before death did not have a spouse or domestic partner or if the spouse or domestic partner is not available — a son or daughter of, or over the age of 18 years; or
if a spouse, domestic partner, son or daughter is not available — a parent
if a spouse, domestic partner, son, daughter or parent is not available — a sibling who is of, or over the age of 18 years; or
if a spouse, domestic partner, son, daughter, parent, or sibling is not available —a person named in the will as an executor; or
if a spouse, domestic partner, son, daughter, parent, sibling or executor is not available — a person who, immediately before the death, was a personal representative of the deceased; or
if a spouse, domestic partner, son, daughter, parent, sibling, executor or personal representative is not available — a coroner may agree that a close friend or associate of the person can be the senior next of kin for the purposes of the investigation. The coroner will make a decision if there is more than one person wanting to be the senior next of kin.
Who will communicate with my family and what information will need to be provided?
The nursing and administrative staff at the CAE will communicate directly with you and will usually request information to assist the investigation, such as:
Any known medical history of your family member
Any issues you would like the Coroner to investigate
Information on who will organise the funeral (this does not need to be provided immediately- only when you and your family is ready)
Your family’s views on whether an autopsy should or should not be conducted.
Identification of the Deceased
How is the deceased person identified?
One of the responsibilities of the coroner is to confirm the identity of the person who died. In most cases this is by visual recognition at the place of death by someone who knew the person. If identification is not completed at the place of death, an appointment will be made with a family member to attend the VIFM to view the deceased and confirm their identity.
In some cases a deceased person may not be visually recognisable. In these cases, medical or scientific methods such as dental records, fingerprinting or DNA comparison may be used.
Can I view and touch the body of the deceased?
The best place to view your family member is at your nominated funeral home. If this is not possible, a time may be arranged for a viewing to take place at the VIFM. This needs to be by appointment in order for us to give you the appropriate support. Appointments can be made during office hours from Monday to Friday.
In many circumstances you will be able to touch your family member but each death is different, and our support staff will discuss with you whether it will be possible to do this.
What happens to personal possessions?
In most circumstances, all personal possessions that are received by the VIFM are given to the family nominated funeral directors.
The Medical Examination
Is a medical examination required and what does medical examination mean?
Medical examinations are carried out on all deceased persons and every person admitted to the mortuary will undergo an xray examination in the form of a whole body CT scan. Depending on the circumstances of the death, the Coroner may only require an external examination of the deceased combined with other tests. However, an internal examination or autopsy may still be required in some cases. Today less than 50% of medical investigations involve a full autopsy.
Who makes the decision as to what level of medical examination is required?
Only a Coroner can order an autopsy. The role of the Institute Forensic Pathologist is to review all the case details and provide the duty coroner with the scientific and medical information to help them decide what should happen next. The coroner will consider this medical recommendation, together with the wishes of the family.
Why does the coroner require an autopsy?
Even where forensic tests and x-rays have been performed these cannot always resolve all the investigation issues and an autopsy may still be required to determine the cause of death and any factors that may have contributed to the death.
What legal rights do I have to object to an autopsy and what is my role in the decision making process?
The senior next of kin will be contacted and advised of the type of medical examination the coroner has directed. Your family can either agree to this examination, or you ask the coroner to reconsider his/her decision on the basis of any concern you may have including religious or cultural reasons. This request and reasons for reconsideration, must be emailed to the CAE within 48 hours of being notified that an autopsy has been directed by a coroner.
Is it possible to request an autopsy?
If a coroner directs that only an external examination be performed, a family may request an autopsy be conducted. This request and the reasons for the request must be submitted by email to the CAE.
Is it possible to donate tissue?
Yes it is possible to donate tissue, please visit The Donor Tissue Bank of Victoria for further information.
There are several levels of medical examination that may be directed by the coroner. This information sheet explains in simple terms the difference between and external examination, a partial autopsy and full autopsy.
Release of the Body
Who will confirm the body has been released?
Your nominated funeral director will confirm with your family when your loved one has been released by the coroner into the care of the funeral director.
Why can't the body be released earlier?
On average, it takes approximately 5 days for all processes to be completed. We understand that this is an extremely difficult and overwhelming process and during this time your family will be contacted and kept informed of the progress by CAE staff. Our CAE office is open 24-hours a day and you are welcome to contact us at any time with any questions.
What is the role of the funeral director and when can I make funeral arrangements?
Your family can make contact with a funeral director at any time. The funeral director will then liaise with you and also with the CAE to assist in the planning of funeral arrangements.
How do I obtain a death certificate?
The Coroner provides the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages with information about the cause of death so the death can be registered. When the death has been registered It is the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages who issues the death certificate.
For more information please refer to the Coroners Court of Victoria website.
What is a coronial investigation or inquest and why is it required?
Every death or fire reported to the Coroners Court of Victoria is distinct and requires an individual approach depending on the particular circumstances surrounding that investigation. For more information please refer to the Coroners Court of Victoria website.