Since 2008, the Coroners Court has been responsible for coronial investigations into reportable and reviewable deaths, deaths in custody, deaths by natural causes where the death is unexpected, and fires.
Frequently asked questions:
- Can I be convicted or go to prison if a coroner finds that I caused a death? The answer is no. The coroner can make findings but the only way that a person can be convicted or go to prison is if they are convicted after a trial or plead guilty. They would need to be charged by Police and go through the criminal justice process.
- Will I get charged with a criminal offence after a coronial inquest? This is a matter for the Police. However, this is why it is important to be represented during the inquest, so that the evidence is properly examined. It is not always the case that a person will be charged, even when a Coroner has made a finding that they are likely responsible for a death. We have had many clients in this situation.
- Will people know of the results of an inquest? Most findings are public. However, there are examples where they are not published and there can be issues with locating findings, due to sensitive evidence. If you think that a suppression order should be in place, you need an experienced criminal defence lawyer who can navigate this for you and represent your interests.
Coronial investigations can arise as a result of an unexplained death where the death has been ‘unexpected, unnatural or violent’, arising from an ‘accident or injury’ or where the death has arisen from a medical procedure. The coroners who work for the Court conduct preliminary examinations of bodies and autopsies. The Coroner may also be called to investigate a death where the identity of the deceased is unknown or, where the death occurred whilst the person was in a psychiatric facility or prison. The Coroners Act 2008 operates very differently from the criminal jurisdiction.
The Coroner’s Court will conduct inquests in relation to deaths and fires. At an inquest, the Coroner may summon a person to attend and answer questions, hold and inspect documents and order a witness to answer questions put to them. If a person wilfully fails to comply with the summons, they may be charged with contempt of court, which is punishable by a fine of up to 600 penalty units. Please visit our Infringement and Penalties page for further information on penalty units. The Coroner has investigative powers and interested parties can be represented in proceedings. Interested parties are people who have a sufficient interest in the inquest and in relation to whom it is appropriate that they be an interested party. Interested parties have the right to make submissions to the Coroner that certain witnesses be called to answer questions. Interested parties may include family members of the deceased, Police or other Public Bodies.
An inquest may occur on its own or may commence after a person has been acquitted of homicide or arson. Often a person may be acquitted of a criminal charge but found responsible for the death of another at a Coronial Inquest. The Inquest is not bound by the rules of evidence in the same way that a Trial Court is. At the conclusion of an Inquest, the Coroner may make findings or recommendations regarding the death or the circumstances of the death. The findings do not impose any penalty on any previously accused person.
It is important to those who are required to be represented at Coronial Investigations or who wish to be represented during the Inquiry be capably represented by advocates familiar with the jurisdiction. Often matters may arise during a Coronial Investigation, which may have bearing on a prospective criminal investigation and, in these circumstances, it is imperative that those involved in proceedings are fully advised of their rights. There can also be an impact on a person’s reputation, where they are implicated in a death even though criminal charges have not been laid or they have been acquitted of charges at Trial.
We have represented many individuals in Coronial Inquests. These include the Inquests in relation to Phoebe Handsjuk, Jennifer Tanner, and Kath Bergamin.
If you are an interested party in a Coronial Inquest or you have received a summons to attend an Inquest, please contact our team of experienced criminal lawyers to discuss your matter.