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Coroner's court

Criminal lawyer Coroners Court page - headings & banner

Contact Armstrong Legal:
Sydney: (02) 9261 4555

John Sutton

The role of the Coroner is to investigate the cause of a death that has occurred. Often, this investigation will involve an inquest – a public hearing of sorts. The Coroner also has a role in investigating fires and explosions.

The Coroner does not have the power to find anyone guilty of any crime, or to punish anyone for what they may or may not have done. The Coroner can, however, make a finding into how or why a person died, make recommendations to prevent similar tragedies, or even recommend that a person or persons be charged with a crime.

Coming before a Coroner can be a very difficult and stressful time. It may be that a loved one has died, and you have been summoned to tell the Coroner what you know. Alternatively, the Coroner may suspect you of involvement in a death. Either way, it is important you seek legal advice and consider whether you wish to have legal representation at the hearing.

Appearing as a witness at the Coroner's Court

The Coroner has the power to subpoena you to appear at the inquest if he or she believes that you are likely to be able to give material evidence to the inquest. If a subpoena to appear is not complied with, the Coroner has the power to issue a warrant for that person’s arrest.

At the inquest, the various parties involved will be able to cross examine you about what you know or what you may or may not have done. For example, if you were driving and were involved in an accident in which someone was killed, you may be questioned about whether you had been drinking, how you had been driving and what other factors may have contributed to the accident.

You have to answer all questions you are asked truthfully. The only time you will not have to answer questions is if the court believes that your answers are likely to prove that you have committed an offence. In this case, you can either refuse to answer any questions, or apply for a certificate that means that anything you say at the inquest cannot be used against you in a NSW Court. If you do not receive this certificate then anything you say may be used against you in court. If you are concerned that the evidence may incriminate you, it is possible to have a solicitor present who can assist you in arguing law and making objections.

It is very important that if you appear at an inquest and are questioned that you answer all questions fully and truthfully. The penalties for failing to do so can be severe, including up to five years imprisonment. 

What will happen at the inquest?

The inquest will be conducted in a room like a courtroom. The Coroner will be present and will run proceedings. There may or may not be a jury, who will assist the Coroner in making a finding.

The Coroner will allow anyone who has sufficient interest in the subject-matter of the inquest to be represented. This would usually include family members of the deceased.

The Coroner will hear evidence from witnesses, and interested parties will have the opportunity to cross-examine these witnesses. The Coroner may also ask questions of the witness.

The Coroner can subpoena anyone who might be able to give material evidence . Failure to appear when instructed by the subpoena can lead to this person’s arrest.

If you believe that there is reason why the Coroner should hear your evidence, but you have not been called, you can apply in writing to the Coroner, who will then consider your request.

The hearing is usually open to the public.

A person whose evidence may tend to prove that they have committed an offence may apply for a certificate. This certificate means that the evidence they give cannot be used against them in a NSW court. If you are concerned that the evidence you may give may incriminate you, it is possible to have a solicitor present who can assist you in arguing law and making objections.

What other powers does the Coroner have?

If the Coroner believes it appropriate to do so, the Coroner can do any of the following things:

  • conduct his or her own investigations into a death 
  • take possession of a body
  • conduct an autopsy or an exhumation
  • subpoena medical experts to give evidence at an inquest
  • subpoena other people who have material knowledge about the death.

Autopsies and exhumation

The Assistant Coroner has the power to order an autopsy or an exhumation to be performed on the deceased where the death is within the Coroner’s jurisdiction. If the family of the deceased (or any other person) object to this, they can apply to the Supreme Court of NSW to have the decision overturned. 


where to next?

If you suspect that you may be under investigation, or if you have been charged with an offence, it is vital to get competent legal advice as early as possible. Our lawyers are highly specialised in criminal law and will be able to guide you through the process while dealing with the various authorities related to your matter.

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