How to access documents
The following information is designed to assist legal practitioners. For a short summary of how to access documents please refer to A Guide for Families and Friends: Practical matters – Access to documents.
Electronic copies of some findings (including all findings that relate to inquests) are published on the coroner’s court section of the Magistrates Court web site, under Coronial Findings. The list of published findings is fully searchable. Most often, a coroner will chose to publish findings from an investigation without inquest if they feel that the information would enhance public health and safety, or if there has been significant public concern about the matter.
For other documentation, you are required to apply to the coroner’s court in order to view the document or receive a copy. Access to coronial documents is only granted to people with a sufficient personal or professional interest in the particular document, so it may be necessary to prove to the coroner that your client has a ‘sufficient interest’ first.
There is no legislative definition of sufficient interest, but the coroner will take into account factors such as the level of professional / personal interest in the investigation and whether giving the person the access or the copy is likely to unfairly prejudice the interests or reputation of another person (rule 26(4)). Being granted access to a particular document does not automatically mean that your client is an ‘interested person’ under the Act. Some parties will have a sufficient interest in one particular document, but not in the investigation as a whole.
For a statement on the meaning of ‘sufficient interest’ in the context of interested persons, refer to Barci v Heffey  VSC 13.
Whether your client is granted access to a particular document will depend on their personal or professional interest in the document, but it may also depend on the current stage of the investigation. Some documents contain information that must be kept confidential until the coroner has made their findings. Other documents may be explained but not given to parties to read. Coroners receive a large amount of documentation with each case, some of these documents are relied upon heavily, other are not considered relevant. Often the coroner will not know how much weight they will give a particular document until they have had the opportunity to consider all of the evidence. If you are granted access to parts of the coronial record, it is important to realise that those documents are not the ‘full story’. The coroner critically scrutinises all information received in light of the evidence in its totality.
The coroner’s court has originals (or copies) of documents connected with current and historical investigations. Often families and friends involved in a coronial matter will not be emotionally prepared to look at this documentation until some years have passed. They are always able to make an application to access coronial documents no matter how many years ago the investigation occurred. Which documents are still available will depend on the nature of the investigation, and how long ago the death, fire or explosion occurred.
Once an investigation is complete, the file is stored in Hobart. If the investigation occurred more than 25 years ago, the records are held at the Archives Office of Tasmania. If you are seeking access to these records, you will still need to apply through the coroner’s court. The rules for access to documents are set out in Rule 26. Once a record is 75 years old, it is publically available and there is no requirement that the coroner approve access (Archives Act 1983 (Tas) s 15). Accordingly, for files older than 75 years, enquiries should be made with the Archives Office directly.
For more information on accessing coronial documents, refer to How do I make an application to access documents.
How do I make an application to access documents (Rule 26)?
To gain access to any of the documents on the coronial file, please use the online or paper form provided by the coroner’s court. The online form ‘Application to Access Coronial Records ’ can be found on the Magistrates Court web site, under Forms. Paper copies are available at the coroner’s court).
- 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, any oral evidence or recordings of the inquest if there has been one and any physical evidence seized for the investigation.
- The type of documents you are permitted to access will depend on whether you or your client has a ‘sufficient interest’ in that document and on what stage the investigation is in.
- Often the coroner does not grant access to documents during an active investigation.
- If your client requires the assistance of an interpreter (or translator) to understand the content of a document, please include that information in the application. If access is granted and the coroner authorises it, an interpreter or translation will be provided at the court’s expense.
- The coroner will be given information about the application and decide whether to grant access. An application can be refused or access prohibited if necessary.
Copies of documents
- The senior next of kin will receive a copy of the coroner’s findings at no cost and they are not required to apply.
- As a general rule copies are only provided to legal representatives, whereas other parties may be allowed to view the file.
- If you are requesting a copy of a document, there will be a fee payable upon receipt.
For more information on the fees payable, refer to Do I have to pay for documents? below.
Viewing the file
- If you are given permission to view the file, a time and date will be arranged for you to come in to the appropriate coroners’ office and look at the file.
- Please keep in mind that some of the material may be distressing and even detached professionals may not wish to look at all of it.
- If you are unsure about whether to advise your client to look at the file, please discuss the matter with court staff and / or direct them to a grief counsellor (please refer to A Guide for Families and Friends: Who can help?).
- Photographs of a distressing or graphic nature and post mortem reports will be removed from the file before viewing. If you specifically wish to view these documents, please let the staff at the coroners’ office know, as special procedures apply.
- A view can enable you to assess the evidence before the coroner and establish which documents, if any, you would like to request a copy of.
Do I have to pay for documents?
The coroners’ office does not charge a fee for access to, and viewing of, coronial records. Where a copy of document is requested, a fee will be payable. The senior next of kin will automatically receive a copy of the coronial findings without charge.
If your application for a copy of a coronial record is granted, you will be required to pay a fee. The fee is charged per page and it may not be possible for staff to give an exact amount until the documents are prepared. The fee pays for the copy itself and for the staff time taken to generate the document and provide it to you. For a copy of the fees schedule for the coroner’s court, please refer to Fees.
If you wish to receive a copy of a document but your client cannot afford to pay the fee, then you may apply to the coroner to “waive” the fee. This means that you will receive the documents at a reduced price or at no cost. You must prove that your client is suffering severe financial hardship (as well as proving that they have a sufficient interest in the document / proceedings to be granted access).
To request that a fee be waived, write to the coroner’s court and provide all relevant information on the application, including full details of your client’s financial situation and their ability to pay.