Identification of the deceased person
A deceased person can be identified by any person who knew them in life. In some cases, a family member or friend will be asked to identify the deceased person for the coroner.
For more information, please go to A Guide for Families and Friends: The first 24 hours.
Viewing and touching the deceased person
If you agree to identify the deceased person, then you will look at them very early in the investigation. At this point, a police officer will go with you and you will not be allowed to touch the deceased person.
After the initial part of the investigation, you can arrange with the funeral home to view the deceased person for the first time or again.
For some people it is a very important part of the grieving process to view or touch their deceased loved one. Others do not wish to do so. Both are perfectly normal and understandable responses to the shock of sudden death.
- It is recommended that all viewings are arranged with the funeral home. At a funeral home you will not be rushed. You can take support people with you and spend your time with the deceased person in soothing surroundings. The way people look changes after death and funeral homes are able to provide cosmetic services that can make viewing the deceased person more comforting.
- In special cases, the coroners’ office may authorise a viewing of the deceased person before they are released from the Royal Hobart Hospital or the Launceston General Hospital.
- If you are viewing the deceased person at the hospital, it is important to remember that mortuaries cannot provide the kinds of cosmetic services that funeral homes can to make the deceased person look more life-like.
- If the coroner has not yet made an order releasing the deceased person, then you might not be able to touch them as evidence may still be being gathered.
- If there are health risks involved in touching the deceased person, you may not be able to touch them.
- It is usual for the deceased person to be released to the funeral director who has been contracted by the senior next of kin.
- The law which includes who the deceased person is released to is known as probate law and the coroner does not control this. If there is a dispute about who the deceased person should be released to, you will need to apply to the Supreme Court.
- You are welcome to start making funeral arrangements as soon as you want, but it may be better not to set a date for the funeral until you are notified that the deceased person is ready to be released (either by the coroner’s court or by your funeral director).
- You can choose any funeral director you like and arrange a service that you feel is most suited to you and your family. It is a good idea to contact a funeral director early on, let them know that the coroner is involved and ask them what services they provide.
- A contract to provide a funeral is usually a contract between the funeral director and the senior next of kin, or an available responsible person. By signing a contract with a funeral director you are undertaking responsibility for the funeral expenses. If you wish for the funeral account to be sent to a solicitor, for others to contribute to the funeral, or if you are not sure if you can cover the full cost, you should seek some legal advice before signing an agreement.
- The coroner’s court is not able to recommend a funeral director for you to use. Information and contact details for funeral directors in Tasmania can be found here:
- There is often a fee involved when the deceased person has to be transported from the mortuary to a funeral home that is a long way from the mortuary.
- If you want advice on how to arrange for the deceased person to be moved to another state or country for burial or cremation, please seek legal advice.
The Department of Health and Human Services manages an Essential Care Funeral Policy to reduce any risks to public health. The Policy provides for a publicly funded direct committal (a cremation without a service), where the deceased person has not been claimed because they don’t have enough money in their estate to pay for burial / cremation and either:
- there is no one willing to claim the body, or
- their relatives are unable to claim the body because they cannot pay for burial / cremation.
The Policy is not an assistance package for low-income earners and can only be used when a deceased person is not claimed. A deceased person is “claimed” when a relative takes responsibility for them and starts to organise a funeral. At the time of publishing the Handbook this Policy is under review, so the rules may change in the future.
For organisations that provide free legal advice, please go to A Guide for Families and Friends: Who can help? - Legal help.
Access to documents
Access to coronial documents
If you want to access any of the documents on the coronial file, you can make an application using an online or paper form. You can find the online form ‘Application to Access Coronial Records ’ in the Forms section of the Magistrates Court website. Paper forms are available at the coroner’s court.
Useful notes for accessing documents:
- Any person can make an application to view, access, or receive a copy of a coronial record.
- A coronial record includes any document on the court file, and any oral evidence or recordings of the inquest if there has been one.
- The coroner will only give you access to documents if you have a good reason for wanting to read them. This is to protect the privacy of the people involved, including family members.
- Sometimes it is not possible to give access to certain documents during an active investigation.
- If you need an interpreter (or a translation) to assist you to understand a document, please tell the staff at the coroners’ office and write or have someone help you write that in your application. If the coroner grants you access to documents and approves the use of the interpreter, the court will pay their costs.
- The coroner’s court does not provide Death Certificates. If you want a copy of a Death Certificate, you can contact Service Tasmania (refer to ‘Death Certificates ’ below for more information).
- Usually only lawyers can take away copies of coronial documents.
- If you want a copy of a coronial document or a recording of an inquest, you will need to pay a fee.
- In the case of post mortem reports, the coroner will send the copy to a doctor so that the doctor can explain all the medical terms used. The person requesting access to the report gets to choose which doctor they want to use.
- Once you make an application, the coroner will be shown your application and then decide whether to give you access using rule 26 of the Coroners Rules 2006.
- It might be upsetting to read some of the documents on the file, especially if you learn things about the death that you did not know beforehand. It might be a good idea to take a support person with you or to arrange to talk to a counsellor afterwards to ‘debrief’. You will not see any photographs unless you ask for them.
The post mortem report / Provisional Cause of Death
Within 24 hours of the post mortem examinations, the pathologist will provide the coroner’s court with a ‘Provisional Cause of Death’. This information is then provided to the senior next of kin.
Once the full post mortem report is prepared, family members or close friends may request to have the document sent to a general practitioner (GP) or other medical practitioner of their choice. This allows a medical professional to explain the medical terminology used by pathologists to families / friends. Medical practitioners also have free access to interpreting services, if you need an interpreter to help you understand the post mortem report.
A full post mortem report may take many months to finalise if scientific (toxicological) testing and medical research is also required.
Coroners’ findings are sent out to the senior next of kin as soon as they are finalised. Other parties will need to apply to the coroner’s court if they want a copy. Please go to ‘Access to coronial documents ’ above for information about making an application. All findings relating to inquests are published, and some findings relating to investigations only are also published. You can find published findings on the coroner’s court section of the Magistrates Court web site, under Coronial Findings.
You can get a copy of the Death Certificate from Service Tasmania for a fee. If you have contacted a funeral director, then they may get a copy of the certificate for you so always check with them before you pay to get a copy yourself.
- Information on how to find the Service Tasmania shop closest to you and on how to apply for a Death Certificate is available online, or you can phone Service Tasmania and ask.
- Service Tasmania: 1300 135 513
- You may only be able to get an ‘interim death certificate’ while the coronial investigation is still going. This certificate may not be accepted by banks and other organisations, so check whether they will accept it before you apply.
- If you do get an interim death certificate, it will say ‘incomplete registration – cause of death subject to coronial inquiry’. Once the coronial investigation is finished, Births, Death and Marriages can swap the interim death certificate for a standard Death Certificate.
Items taken by police
There are two types of items taken by police for a coronial investigation: (a) items taken for safekeeping and (b) items taken as evidence.
All such items taken by police are held at the ‘police property store’ at the relevant police station (usually Hobart or Launceston). If the police take items for safekeeping (for example, a deceased person’s wallet or keys) these can be returned to families and friends very quickly. Sometimes items such as clothing may be disposed of if they are soiled, damaged or wet, or if occupational health and safety could be negatively affected. If the police take something as evidence for the investigation, it stays in the custody of the coroner until their findings are complete.
In some situations, the coroner can make orders allowing evidence to be returned to its owner before the findings are finished. Unless an order like this is made, all evidence has to stay with the police. If the coroner does make an order returning evidence (an order for ‘care and control’), then any item returned cannot be modified or sold until the investigation is finished. For example, if a laptop is returned to you this way, you cannot lend it to someone else or delete files from it.
Once the findings are handed down, the coroner will usually release any evidence taken by police to the senior next of kin. If the evidence is something given to the coroner by a particular person or group for the investigation, it will be returned to that person or group. Unclaimed property is kept for a reasonable time and then disposed of by police. If there is a dispute about who something belongs to, any person can make an application to the coroner to have an item returned to them.
You can find more information on the different types of evidence at inquests in the Tasmanian Coronial Practice Handbook, under Key Elements in the Process: Evidence.
You can find more information on how to make an application in the Tasmanian Coronial Practice Handbook, under Key Elements in the Process: Applications or you can contact the coroner’s court.
Wills and estates
If you have questions about the will or about the estate of the deceased person, please contact the Executor of the will, or seek legal advice.
If there is a dispute about the ownership of valuables or personal items belonging to the deceased, you will need to contact the Executor of the will or seek legal advice.
If there is no will it is recommended that you seek legal advice, or alternately you may contact the Public Trustee for assistance.
For organisations that provide free legal advice, please go to A Guide for Families and Friends: Who can help? - Legal help.
The following website provides useful information: What to do following a death.
Access to the scene where death (or a fire or an explosion) occurred
If you wish to access a public place, you can attend at any time unless police or the coroner are still conducting investigations at the scene. If the scene is still an active part of the investigation, the police will not let people in until they have gathered all the evidence and made sure everything is safe for the public. You can ask the staff at the coroner’s court to notify you once access to the scene is open.
If the scene you wish to access is a private residence, building or on private property then there are two considerations. First, you need to ensure that access to the scene is not restricted (refer to ‘public place’ above). Second, you will need to seek permission from the owner of the property, or the person leasing the premises if they are being rented. If you are able to contact owner or lessee directly, then you are welcome to do that. If you are unsure who owns the premises, you can contact the coroner’s court and ask them to seek permission for you.
You can find information on how to make an application to access a restricted scene, in the Tasmanian Coronial Practice Handbook, under Key Elements in the Process: Applications.