What Powers Does the Coroner Have?
The Coroner is a public official who is empowered to conduct inquests into the cause or manner of a person’s death and to determine the identity of a person who has been found dead. The Coroner has a number of powers related to the investigation of deaths, the issuing of subpoenas and the conduct of autopsies. Prior to convening a Coronial Inquest, the Coroner may exercise any or all of these powers.
In Australia, there is a Coroner responsible for conducting inquests in each state and territory. The legislation that empowers the Coroner of each jurisdiction is listed below.
- Victoria: Coroner’s Act 2008
- New South Wales: Coroner’s Act 2009
- Queensland: Coroner’s Act 2003
- Western Australia: Coroner’s Act 1996
- South Australia: Coroner’s Act 2003
- Northern Territory: Coroner’s Act 1993
- ACT: Coroner’s ACT 1997
Each of these acts sets out the powers, duties and discretion possessed by the Coroner in respect of investigating and reporting on deaths and fires, exhumation and conducting inquests. It also sets out how findings, recommendation and referrals are to be given, what they may contain and how they are to be published.
They set out the appeal processes available in respect of determination by the Coroner and how the Coroners Court is to operate.
Powers of the Coroner
If the coroner believes it is appropriate to do so for the purpose of an inquest or an inquiry, they can do any of the following:
- 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, and
- subpoena other people who have material knowledge about the death.
Assistance to the Coroner
The Coroner may require the person who reported the death or asked for the investigation to assist his or her investigation.
The police and fire authority must give the Coroner any information that is relevant to their investigation.
Autopsies and exhumation
The Coroner has the power to order or authorise that an autopsy or an exhumation be performed on a 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 in whichever jurisdiction applies to have the decision overturned.
Findings and recommendations
The Coroner may make findings, recommendations and referrals. They must, if possible, report the identity of the deceased, the cause of death and its circumstances and any other prescribed particulars.
The Coroner must not make a finding of guilt in respect of an offence.
The Coroner may make recommendations to any minister of public authority in respect of any matter connected with a death or fire they have investigated.
If you would like free advice about the powers of the Coroner or in any other legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.