The coroner’s court collects and retains many types of documents as part of the investigation process; these documents are all a part of the ‘coronial record’. Anyone can apply to the coroner’s court for access to documents. Please note that you will only be able to access a document if you have a ‘sufficient interest’ in the particular document you want to look at.
For information on how to apply, refer to Key Elements in the Process: How to access documents.
At the conclusion of an investigation, the coroner will make “findings” which may include comments and recommendations in relation to the death. The findings include details such as the cause of death and any factors that may have contributed to the death. A copy of the coronial findings is sent to the senior next of kin without charge once the investigation is complete. Anyone else who wishes to receive a copy of the findings is required to make a request to the coroner’s court. In some cases (such as where there is an inquest) the findings will be published on the coroner’s court section of the Magistrates Court web site under Coronial Findings.
For more information on findings, please refer to Key Elements in the Process: Findings, comments and recommendations.
Often coroners will require the medical records of a deceased person to be sent to the coroners’ office, to be included in the investigation file. These records may include files held by a general practitioner (GP), a hospital such as the Royal Hobart Hospital or Launceston General Hospital, a residential aged care facility and / or any treating medical specialists.
The police officers tasked to investigate the death, fire or explosion complete the investigation file and return it to the coroners’ office. The investigation file contains all the photographs, statements, reports and records the police have gathered (predominantly in affidavit form). When the investigation file arrives at the coroners’ office, it is reviewed by the coroners’ associates and they decide (usually under the direction of the coroner) if any further information is required to complete the findings. The investigation file can be referred back to police at any stage if further information is required. Once the coroner has the information they require, they then write their findings. In approximately three per cent of cases, the coroner will hold an inquest before the findings are delivered.
For more information, refer to Key Elements in the Process: Inquests.
The investigation file will generally contain the following indexed documents:
- Tasmania Police Subject Report of the investigating officer (includes background history, the circumstances leading up to and including the death, who attended the scene and what function they performed, any opinions of the investigating officer and a list of potential witnesses including what evidence they can give)
- Report of Death
- life extinct affidavit
- identification affidavit
- post mortem affidavit (report)
- government analyst affidavit (toxicology)
- specialist affidavits and / or reports (these may include ambulance, medical, ballistic, transport, photographic, fingerprints and others)
- civilian affidavits (from families, friends, witnesses and associates)
- investigating police documents
Post mortem report
After they conduct their post mortem examinations, the pathologist will write a report about the results. In the report, the pathologist provides an opinion on the cause of death (if one was determined). The post mortem report is a highly specialised document and contains complex medical terminology. If the families or friends of the deceased person wish to view the post mortem report, a coroner may authorise its release to a medical practitioner of their choosing, who will guide them through the report and explain the contents. Medical practitioners have access to free interpreting services and so this can be very helpful in the case of a person whose first language is not English.
Coroners often request other reports during investigations, depending on the nature of the death, fire or explosion. These are usually provided in affidavit form. Toxicology reports provide information on poisons, drugs or medications that were in a deceased person’s system at the time of death. WorkSafe Tasmania inspectors provide reports when a death occurs at the deceased person’s workplace. Crash investigators provide opinions in the case of a fatal crash as to how the crash occurred and transport inspectors provide opinions on any defects in the vehicle/s. Firearms experts provide reports where a death involved a firearm. The Tasmania Fire Service provides a Fire Investigation Report in investigations into fires and some explosions. Government bodies that regulate health and safety in specific areas such as pools, residential aged care facilities and airports also provide reports when required. Interested persons are generally able to have their own experts examine evidence and provide reports to the court if they wish.
The police photographer or investigating officers take photographs at the scene of death. Photographs may also be taken during the autopsy process. Some of these photographs can be very graphic and upsetting for families and friends. They will always be placed in a separate section of the investigation file to prevent them from being viewed by accident. If the families or friends of the deceased person wish to view photographs on file, the court recommends that they speak with coronial staff and seek counselling before taking this step.
Transcripts and recordings
All inquests are recorded by the administrative officer in court, producing an audio file of all the evidence that can be copied onto a CD. A copy of this recording is kept for one year (if the recording has been typed up into a written document called a “transcript”) and for six years if no written copy has been made (rule 27). You may apply to receive a copy of the recording, or a copy of the transcript if one has been prepared. You are also able to apply to have a recording typed up, but there is a set fee per page (refer to Fees).
Each year, the Chief Magistrate provides the Attorney-General with an Annual Report which includes the operation of the Coroners Act 1995 (Tas) during that year. The report must include details of any deaths of persons held in custody and the findings and recommendations made by the coroner/s in relation to those deaths. The report is tabled in both houses of parliament each year within ten sitting days of being received (s 69). Copies of the Annual Reports are available on the Magistrates Court web site under Publications.
Death Certificate – apply to Service Tasmania
The coroner does not issue Death Certificates. A coroner may make findings as to cause of death, but Death Certificates are only issued by, and can only be sourced from, Births, Deaths and Marriages (via Service Tasmania). If a bank or other institution requests a ‘death certificate from the coroner’ you should clarify whether they are requesting a copy of the coroner’s ‘findings certifying cause of death’, or whether they are requesting the ‘Death Certificate’ from Births, Deaths and Marriages.
You may apply to any Service Tasmania shop for a copy of a Death Certificate (for a fee).
- 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 ongoing. This certificate may not be accepted by financial institutions and other organisations, so check whether they will accept it before you apply.
- If you do receive an interim death certificate, it will clearly state ‘incomplete registration – cause of death subject to coronial inquiry’. Once the coronial investigation is complete, Births, Death and Marriages can exchange the interim death certificate for a standard Death Certificate.
- If your client has contacted a funeral director, you should check whether they are getting a copy of the Death Certificate (as it is sometimes included in the cost of a funeral).