Jurisdiction of the coroner's court
The Coronial Division of the Magistrates Court (the coroner’s court) is established by section 5 of the Act. The jurisdiction of the coroner’s court is solely statutory, as section 4 of the Act nullifies the common law jurisdiction. The majority of matters investigated by the coroner’s court are deaths, with fires and explosions making up a very small percentage of the caseload. In Tasmania, there is no State Coroner. In effect, the Chief Magistrate holds this position (ss 7, 8 & 9) and can hold inquests if they consider it desirable to do so (s 24A). In practice, the Chief Magistrate has delegated a large portion of their coronial powers to one full-time coroner, who heads the coronial jurisdiction. The Chief Magistrate continues to exercise some powers, including those that are non-delegable.
For a coronial finding that presents a discussion of the jurisdiction and the aims and limits of the coroner’s court in Tasmania, refer to paragraphs 1 – 17 of Butterworth, Lucille 2016 TASCD 96.
Jurisdiction to investigate a death
The coroner has jurisdiction to investigate a death only if it is, or may be, a reportable death (s 21(1)). For the definition of a ‘reportable death’ refer to section 3 of the Act. The coroner also has jurisdiction to investigate where there is a suspected reportable death (for example, in the case of a long-term missing person). In section 3, the definition of death includes suspected death. The coroner is not required to investigate a death at any time if the death is being investigated in another state or territory (s 21(2)).
In matters involving the death of military personnel, deaths of Tasmanian residents overseas and any death that occurs during travel to or from Tasmania, more complex jurisdictional issues may arise.
For more information, refer to Key Elements in the Process: Reporting of deaths.
Jurisdiction to investigate a fire or explosion
The coroner has jurisdiction to investigate a fire or explosion if the fire or explosion occurred in Tasmania, and the coroner believes it is desirable to conduct an investigation (s 40(1)). The coroner must investigate a fire or explosion if directed to do so by the Attorney-General or the Chief Magistrate (s 40(2)). In practice, investigations of this nature rarely occur if there is not an associated death.
For an example of an inquest into a fire, refer to Inquest into the Myer Fire 2009 TASCD 239.
Jurisdiction to hold an inquest
Inquests into deaths
Under section 24 of the Act, a coroner who has jurisdiction to investigate a death must also hold an inquest in specific circumstances. These are: where the body is in Tasmania or it appears to the coroner that the death, or the cause of death, occurred in Tasmania or that the deceased ordinarily resided in Tasmania at the time of death and where the death falls into one of the following categories:
- where there is a suspected homicide
- where a person was held in custody or care immediately before death
- where a person died escaping or trying to escape from custody or care
- where a person died while someone was trying to take them into custody or care
- where the identity of the deceased person is unknown
- where there is a workplace death, not due to natural causes
- if the death occurs in a manner in which an inquest is required under any other Act
- if the Attorney-General or the Chief Magistrate directs.
The coroner also has the power to hold an inquest if they have jurisdiction to investigate the relevant death and they consider it desirable to do so.
Under section 25, if the coroner becomes aware that someone has been charged with a specified offence in relation to the death, fire or explosion when an inquest has commenced, but before the findings are handed down, then the inquest must be suspended until after the offence has been finalised (and any appeal period has expired). They are required to notify the Attorney-General that this has occurred. The section that governs this is section 25 of the Act, which also specifies the types of offences that trigger this process (s 25 (2)). Once the criminal proceedings are at an end, the coroner may decide to resume the inquest if there is sufficient cause to do so. An inquest resumed under this section proceeds from the beginning as if it were a new matter. Any findings that the coroner then makes cannot be inconsistent with the decision of the criminal court.
Inquests into fires and explosions
A coroner who has jurisdiction to investigate a fire or an explosion may hold an inquest if they believe it is desirable to do so (s 43(2)). A coroner must hold an inquest if directed by the Attorney-General or the Chief Magistrate (s 43(1)).
For more information, refer to Key Elements in the Process: Inquests.