When is an Inquest Held? (NSW)


Section 12 of the Coroners Act 1980 gives the Coroner jurisdiction over deaths in a limited set of circumstances. Where the Coroner’s Act applies, the Coroner may exercise various powers to investigate the death and may decide to hold a Coronial Inquest to establish the cause of death.

The circumstances where an inquest may be held in New South Wales  are:

  • where the remains of the person are in NSW; and
  • where the death or suspected death occurred in NSW, or
  • the death or suspected death occurred outside NSW but the person had a sufficient connection with NSW

Under Section 13 of the Coroner’s Act, the coroner has jurisdiction to hold an inquest into any death or suspected death if the coroner believes that:

  • the person died a violent or unnatural death,
  • the person died a sudden death the cause of which is unknown,
  • the person died under suspicious or unusual circumstances,
  • a medical practitioner has not given a certificate as to the cause of death,
  • the person was not attended by a medical practitioner within the period of 3 months immediately preceding his or her death or suspected death,
  • the person died while under, or as a result of, or within 24 hours after the administration of, an anaesthetic administered in the course of a medical, surgical or dental operation or procedure or an operation or procedure of a like nature, other than a local anaesthetic administered solely for the purpose of facilitating a procedure for resuscitation from apparent or impending death,
  • the person died within a year and a day after the date of any accident to which the cause of his or her death or suspected death is or may be attributable,
  • the person died while in or temporarily absent from a hospital within the meaning of the Mental Health Act 1990 and while the person was a resident at the hospital for the purpose of receiving care, treatment or assistance.

Under Section 13A of the Coroner’s Act, an inquest can also be held if the coroner believes that a person died:

  • while in the custody of a police officer or in other lawful custody, or while escaping or attempting
  • to escape from the custody of a police officer or other lawful custody, or
  • as a result of or in the course of police operations, or
  • while in, or temporarily absent from, a detention centre within the meaning of the Children (Detention Centres) Act 1987, a correctional centre within the meaning of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999 or a lock-up, and of which the person was an inmate, or
  • while proceeding to an institution referred to in the paragraph above for the purpose of being admitted as an inmate of the institution and while in the company of a police officer or other official charged with the person’s care or custody.

Under Section 13AB of the Coroner’s Act, an inquest can also be held if the coroner believes that the person died was:

  • a child in care, or
  • a child in respect of whom a report was made under Part 2 of Chapter 3 of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 within the period of three years immediately preceding the child’s death, or
  • a child who is a sibling of a child in respect of whom a report was made under Part 2 of Chapter 3 of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 within the period of three years immediately preceding the child’s death, or
  • a child whose death is or may be due to abuse or neglect or that occurs in suspicious circumstances, or
  • a person (whether or not a child) who, at the time of the person’s death, was living in, or was temporarily absent from, residential care provided by a service provider and authorised or funded under the Disability Services Act 1993 or a residential centre for handicapped persons, or
  • a person (other than a child in care) who is in a target group within the meaning of the Disability Services Act 1993 who receives from a service provider assistance (of a kind prescribed by the regulations) to enable the person to live independently in the community.

In many of the above situations, it is up to the coroner whether an inquest should be held. However, in some circumstances, the coroner is obliged to hold the inquest. If the coroner does not choose to hold an inquest, any interested party can ask for written reasons. An interested party may appeal to the Supreme Court of NSW if they believe that an inquest should be held but the coroner is refusing to do so.

Fires or explosions

The coroner also has jurisdiction to hold an inquiry into any fire or explosion that has destroyed or damaged any property within NSW. As with deaths, in many cases, the coroner can use his or her discretion in deciding whether an Inquiry should be held.

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