Senior next of kin
Who / what is the senior next of kin?
The senior next of kin is a person who has particular legal rights, and these rights activate at discrete stages of the investigation. These rights are the only thing that differentiates the role of the senior next of kin from that of family members and friends who are recognised as interested persons.
The only rights that are exclusive to the senior next of kin under the Act are the rights to:
- object to an autopsy (s 38)
- object to exhumation (s 39)
- be notified of a coroner’s decision not to hold an inquest (s 26(1)(c))
- request a coroner not hold an inquest into a workplace death (s 26A(2)).
Each time one of these rights or matters arises in an investigation, the coroner is required to give the senior next of kin the opportunity to exercise their right(s).
Section 3A of the Coroners Act 1995 (Tas) explains which person is the ‘senior next of kin’. In summary, the senior next of kin will be the first available person on this list:
- the current spouse (which includes the other party to a ‘significant relationship’ according to the definition in the Relationships Act 2003)
- a son or daughter who is at least 18 years of age
- a person in a caring relationship (according to s 5 of the Relationships Act 2003)
- a parent
- a brother or sister who is at least 18 years of age
- an executor of the will
- a personal representative.
Note: If the deceased person is Aboriginal, the senior next of kin can also be an ‘appropriate person’ according to the customs and tradition of the community or group to which the person belonged.
In most cases, it is clear who the senior next of kin is and that legal status will not change throughout the investigation. However, sometimes during the course of the investigation new information comes to light, indicating that another person may be the correct senior next of kin. In this case, the coroner is required to evaluate the information (including seeking submissions from any other person asserting that status) and make the determination afresh the next time there is an opportunity for the senior next of kin to exercise a right.
In some cases, two or more people have equal right to the position of senior next of kin (such as a mother and father, or siblings). To facilitate the investigation, coroners expect families to reach an agreed position as to who is the single point of contact / senior next of kin. If there is no clear channel of communication, investigations can be impeded.
To make an application for your client to be declared senior next of kin, or to delegate the responsibilities of the senior next of kin to another person, refer to Key Elements in the Process: Applications – Applications in the coroner’s court (administrative).
All family members and friends are able to apply to the coroner’s court to be recognised as ‘interested persons’ to the proceedings. Even though the senior next of kin is the main point of contact between family members and the coroner’s court, in most cases relevant correspondence will also be sent to other close family members or friends who request it.
If you are a legal practitioner representing the senior next of kin then you may apply to access, view and copy the coronial record.
It is important to note that the coroner’s decision as to who is the senior next of kin is only relevant to proceedings in the coroner’s court. A coroner’s decision in this regard does not affect parties legal rights under other enactments which may require a determination as to senior next of kin.
For more information, refer to Key Elements in the Process: How to access documents.
If you are the senior next of kin and want more information on what this will mean for you, refer to A Guide for Families and Friends: The coroner’s court and me – Who / what is the senior next of kin?.