Coroner's Charter

This Charter tells you what standards of performance you should expect from the Coroner’s service. It also explains what to do if something goes wrong. 

General

This Charter relates to the Coroner’s service for Dorset.

Legal Position

The Coroner’s service for Dorset operates within a legal framework. It is the duty of Coroners to investigate deaths which are reported to them which appear to be due to violence, or are unnatural, or are sudden and of unknown cause, or which occur in legal custody, and to carry out certain related responsibilities.

Conduct

The Coroner and his staff will treat the bereaved and members of the public courteously and sympathetically at all times. They will have regard, within the constraints of the statutory duties, to the religious faith and cultural traditions of the deceased.

Duties will be discharged impartially, with a view to ascertaining the facts surrounding a death for the purpose of the Coroner’s statutory responsibilities.

Confidentiality will be preserved as far as is possible within a system based on public court hearings. Explanations for the procedures adopted in particular cases will be given, on request, where the coroner is satisfied that the person has a proper interest.

Correspondence

Written enquiries to the coroner will normally receive a reply within 10 working days of receipt. If the matter cannot be resolved within that time, an acknowledgement will be issued within 5 working days. This will include an estimate of when a substantive reply will be sent.

Enquiries Not Requiring an Inquest

If a death is reported which does not need to be the subject of an inquest, a certificate giving the cause of death will be sent to the registrar. This will be within 5 working days of the completion of the Coroner’s enquiries.

Before the Inquest

Interviews

If the Coroner or his staff need to interview someone about a death, the aim will be to do so no more than once. It will be at a time and place convenient to the person concerned. If the person wishes, they may be accompanied during the interview by a relative, friend or other person. Every effort will be made to avoid causing any additional distress to close relatives or friends of the deceased. A copy of any statement to be used at the inquest will be provided to the person who made it, on request, in advance of the hearing (unless the Coroner has good reason not to release it). 

Post Mortems

When the Coroner decides a post mortem is necessary, the immediate next of kin (if known) or personal representative (if any) will be given, wherever possible:

  • An explanation of why a post mortem is necessary and what is involved, if requested
  • Advance notice of the arrangements, so that they may be represented (by a doctor) if they wish. The Coroner will also notify relevant persons or organisations with a proper interest. However because post mortems must normally be undertaken as soon as possible, usually within 24 hours of the discovery of the death, notice may not always be practicable
  • A copy of the post mortem report, if requested

Administration Arrangements

The Coroner will notify those asked to attend an inquest:

  • The date and time of each hearing (if more than one) at least 7 working days in advance. Please note that the formal opening of the inquest, for taking evidence of identity and the medical cause of death from the Coroner’s Officer will take place at shorter notice
  • Details of the location of the Court where the inquest will be held and of the facilities which will be available there
  • Details of the telephone number and a named contact for enquiries

And will:

  • Advise on the availability of a leaflet explaining the purpose and procedures of inquests
  • Beforehand advise those who express a wish to do so that they may attend an inquest as an observer
  • Explain to called witnesses or juror how to claim for travel and subsistence expenses and for financial loss allowances
  • Ascertain any preference for swearing evidence (for example, in accordance with specified religious beliefs, or on affirmation)

    The Coroner will endeavour to hold any necessary inquest at the earliest possible date. However, there may be factors outside the Coroner’s control which can cause delay. 

    Where the inquest is likely to be delayed, the Coroner will notify interested persons of the position. This will include the reasons for any continuing delay. This will be on a regular basis, unless the inquest has been formally adjourned to a specific date.

Timing

The Coroner will endeavour to hold any necessary inquest at the earliest possible date. However, there may be factors outside the Coroner’s control which can cause delay. Where the inquest is likely to be delayed, the Coroner will notify interested persons of the position on a regular basis. This will include the reasons for any continuing delay, unless the inquest has been formally adjourned to a specific date.

Release of the body

The Coroner will release the body of the deceased for the funeral at the earliest opportunity. This is normally within 3 working days.

Where there are uncertainties as to the cause of death, or where the death is suspicious, it may be necessary to retain the body for longer for further investigations. The Coroner will ensure that relatives are advised of potential delays and the reasons for them.

Disclosure of information

The Coroner will, on request, provide to interested parties (not less than 10 working days in advance of the inquest) copies of the post mortem report and documents that will be used at the inquest.

Jurors

For jurors, the Coroner will:

  • Send a leaflet explaining the duties of a juror at an inquest, and provide other relevant information 10 days beforehand
  • Provide an indication in advance of how long the jury service will last

After the Inquest

On the conclusion of the inquest, the next of kin will be provided with a written explanation about how, where and when a copy of the death certificate may be obtained.

If, in the interests of preventing further fatalities, the Coroner decides to report the matter to a relevant person or authority, he will do so within 10 working days of the inquest outcome. He will also send copies of his report to all the interested parties. A copy of any subsequent reply will be sent within 5 days of its receipt.

The Coroner will supply to an interested person, on application, a copy of the inquest verdict (although this is reproduced on the death certificate).

Also any of the documents used in evidence and/or a recording of evidence given at the inquest. This is within 5 working days of receipt of the prescribed fee.

This will vary according to the number and size of documents to be copied. An estimate of the fee will be provided in advance if requested.

The Local Authority, responsible for administering the Coroner’s service, will pay witness and juror expenses claims promptly after receipt of properly completed applications.

Application for permission to remove a body abroad

The Coroner will make every effort to complete his enquiries and decide such applications within 5 days of receipt of notice, including weekends and bank holidays.

Treasure Inquests

Coroners have responsibility for enquiries into treasure finds. Information leaflets about treasure are available from the Coroner’s office.

Feedback and Complaints

Coroners will not normally enter into correspondence about the cases they have completed. Any comments and suggestions on improving the Coroner’s Service are always welcome. Please contact the Coroner’s Office at Stafford Road. The aim of the Coroner’s Service is to provide a service of excellence so that you should have no cause for complaint. If you do, the complaint will be dealt with speedily and courteously within 10 days from receipt.

Complaints about a Coroner’s decision or the outcome of an inquest can only be dealt with through the High Court. The Coroner’s office will be able to explain the procedure on request, but cannot give legal advice.

All complaints about the administration of the Coroner’s Service in Dorset or the conduct of individual members of staff should be raised in the first instance with the Coroner by writing to him or telephoning him. The Coroner will reply to such complaints in accordance with the timescales set out above.

If the Coroner fails to deal with an administration complaint satisfactorily, the complainant may refer it to the Chief Coroner. The Chief Coroner has no disciplinary powers or power to award compensation. They may however, in appropriate cases, refer the complaint to the Lord Chancellor. The Lord Chancellor is responsible for the discipline of Coroners.

Performance

The Coroner’s and Council’s performance will be monitored regularly against the standards detailed in this document.

Further copies of this Charter may be obtained from the Coroner’s Office. General information is contained in the Home Office leaflets "The work of the Coroner" and "When Sudden Death Occurs – Coroners and Inquests". These are also available from the Coroner’s Office.

Further Information

This charter was first issued on 1st September 2000 and last updated September 2013.