Reportable Deaths in Queensland
The Coroners Court in Queensland is responsible for investigating the circumstances of “reportable deaths”. Those particular deaths are defined in the Coroners Act 2003 and must be reported to police or the coroner. The coroner aims to establish the identity of the deceased, and how, where, when and why they died.
Under the Act, a coroner must investigate a “reportable death”. A death is a reportable death if:
- the death happens in Queensland, or if it happens outside of the Queensland and
- the person’s body is in Queensland; or
- the person ordinarily lived in Queensland at the time of death; or
- the person was on a journey to or from Queensland at the time of death; or
- the death was caused by an event that happened in Queensland; and
- it is not known who the person is; or
- the death was violent or an otherwise unnatural death; or
- the death happened in suspicious circumstances; or
- the death was a health-care-related death; or
- a cause of death certificate has not been issued, and is not likely to be issued, for the person; or
- the death was a death in care (such as in supported accommodation or detention in a mental health service); or
- the death was a death in custody; or
- the death happened in the course of, or as a result of, police operations (such as a pursuit or an evacuation).
Who must report a death?
Generally, a person has a duty to report a death to police or the coroner if they believe it is a reportable death and that no one else has reported it. However, if a death occurs in some settings, such as in care or custody, it must be reported, regardless of whether someone else has reported or may report the death.
Death in care
A death in care includes a death where the person:
- had a disability and was living in supported residential accommodation or receiving high-level support at home;
- had an intellectual or cognitive disability and was detained in an authorised mental health service;
- was a child awaiting adoption, in the custody or guardianship of someone, or under a child protection order;
- was a participant in some aspects of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Death in custody
A death in custody is a death that happens in prison or in the course of or as a result of police operations. The person can be in custody, escaping or trying to escape from custody, or trying to avoid being put in custody. Custody can be detention under an arrest, court order or by authority granted under state or federal laws. A death that occurs as result of police operation can include the death of a bystander during an arrest, or the suicide of a person while police are present.
Death in health care
A health-care-related death is a death that occurs any time after a person receives heath care that caused or contributed to, or is likely to have caused or contributed to the death, and this outcome was not reasonably expected before the health care was given.
A death can also be a health-care-related death if health care was sought for a person and the failure to provide it caused or contributed to, or is likely to have caused or contributed to, the death, and the failure to provide care was not reasonably expected.
To determine if a health-care-related death is reportable, a coroner can seek an independent medical opinion on the person’s state of health, such as whether they had an underlying disease, condition or injury, and the risk associated with the health care the person received.
Investigating a reportable death
The coroner investigates the circumstances of the reportable death in several steps. After a death is reported, the corner may order an autopsy on the body, and the family of the dead person is notified the death is being investigated. Once the autopsy is complete and no further tests need to be done, and after the body is formally identified, the body is released for burial or cremation. Police then help the coroner investigate the death, via obtaining medical records or witness statements or other functions. The coroner can seek additional reports, statements or information about the death, including from health professionals, engineers, workplace health and safety inspectors or air safety officers. At the end of the investigation, the coroner issues written findings and decides whether an inquest should be held.
The findings about a reportable death usually contain recommendations on matters related to public health or safety, or the administration of justice, to help prevent deaths from similar causes.
Findings in relation to a death in care, death in custody or a death that happened in the course of or as a result of police operations, must be reported to the Attorney-General, the appropriate government minister and the head of the appropriate government department.
If the coroner reasonably suspects a serious offence has been committed in connection with the death, they must give the relevant information to the Director of Public Prosecutions. For any other offence, the information must be given to the relevant government department.
If the coroner has information about corrupt police or police misconduct, they can give it to Crime and Corruption Commission.
If the coroner has information about a person’s conduct in a profession or trade, they can give it to a disciplinary body, such as a licensing or registration authority, or an authority that can sanction or recommend sanctions for the person’s conduct.
For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.