Reporting of deaths
Approximately 600 deaths are reported to the coroner in Tasmania each year (the Magistrates Court of Tasmania Annual Reports, 2014 – 2015 are available on the Magistrates Court web site, under Publications). All deaths that are reported are investigated (s 7(c)), with the depth of the investigation depending on the circumstances of the case. Of the deaths that coroners investigate, approximately 40 per cent are natural deaths. A natural death does not fall under the jurisdiction of the coroner’s court. The concept of a ‘natural death’ is very complicated both medically and legally, therefore the determination that a death was “natural” can occur at any stage in the investigation. As a result, the amount of time and resources required for each natural death varies. Once a death is confirmed as natural, the investigation is completed as soon as is practicable. In the remaining 60 per cent of deaths, a comprehensive investigation is undertaken. These matters are conducted either by a coroner making findings in chambers or, in a minority of cases, by a public inquest.
For more information, refer to Key Elements in the Process: Investigation of deaths and Key Elements in the Process: Inquests.
Section 3 of the Act states that a reportable death occurs when:
The deceased person is in Tasmania, or connected to Tasmania, that is,
- a death where –
- the body of a deceased person is in Tasmania; or
- the death occurred in Tasmania; or
- the cause of the death occurred in Tasmania; or
- the death occurred while the person was travelling from or to Tasmania –
- AND one of the following applies:
- being a death –
- iv. that appears to have been unexpected, unnatural or violent or to have resulted directly or indirectly from an accident or injury; or
- v. that occurs during a medical procedure, or after a medical procedure where the death may be causally related to that procedure, and a medical practitioner would not, immediately before the procedure was undertaken, have reasonably expected the death; or
- vi. . . . . . . . .
- vii. the cause of which is unknown; or
- viii. of a child under the age of one year which was sudden and unexpected; or
- ix. of a person who immediately before death was a person held in care or a person held in custody; or
- x. of a person whose identity is unknown; or
- xi. that occurs at, or as a result of an accident or injury that occurs at, the deceased person’s place of work, and does not appear to be due to natural causes; or
- being a death –
- the death of a person who ordinarily resided in Tasmania at the time of death that occurred at a place outside Tasmania where the cause of death is not certified by a person who, under a law in force in the place, is a medical practitioner; or
- the death of a person that occurred whilst that person was escaping or attempting to escape from prison, a detention centre, a secure mental health unit, police custody or the custody of a person who had custody under an order of a court for the purposes of taking that person to or from a court; or
- the death of a person that occurred whilst a police officer, correctional officer, mental health officer or a prescribed person within the meaning of section 31 of the Criminal Justice (Mental Impairment) Act 1999 was attempting to detain that person.
There are some relevant definitions in section 3 of the Act:
- correctional officer means a correctional officer within the meaning of the Corrections Act 1997;
- detention centre has the same meaning as in the Youth Justice Act 1997;
- medical procedure means a procedure performed on a person by, or under the general supervision of, a medical practitioner and includes –
- imaging; and
- an examination whether internal or external; and
- a surgical procedure;
- mental health officer means a mental health officer within the meaning of the Mental Health Act 2013;
- person held in care means –
- a child, within the meaning of the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act 1997, in the custody or under the guardianship of the Secretary, within the meaning of that Act;
- a person detained or liable to be detained in an approved hospital within the meaning of the Mental Health Act 2013 or in a secure mental health unit or another place while in the custody of the controlling authority of a secure mental health unit, within the meaning of that Act;
- person held in custody means –
- a person in the custody or control of –
- a police officer; or
- a correctional officer; or
- a mental health officer; or
- the controlling authority of a secure mental health unit; or
- a prescribed person within the meaning of section 31 of the Criminal Justice (Mental Impairment) Act 1999; or
- a person who has custody under the order of a court for the purposes of taking the person to or from a court; or
- a person detained –
- in a prison as defined in the Corrections Act 1997; or
- in a building or part of a building at a police station used for the confinement of persons under arrest or otherwise lawfully detained in custody; or
- in a detention centre;
- a person in the custody or control of –
- secure mental health unit means –
- a secure mental health unit within the meaning of the Mental Health Act 2013; or
- any other place in which a person is being detained while in the custody of the controlling authority of a secure mental health unit.
Anyone who becomes aware of a reportable death must report it to the coroner or the police, if they believe it has not been reported (s 19(1)). A death can be reported orally but the report must be confirmed in writing within 48 hours (rule 4). Usually the coroners’ associates or police will complete the written notification on behalf of a person who makes an oral report of death. Almost all deaths are reported to the coroner by police officers or medical practitioners.
If a person was in care or custody, was trying to escape from care or custody or was about to be placed in care or custody when they died, the person in whose care or custody they were held must report the death as soon as possible. In all cases, the person who reports the death, and any police officer, must provide as much information as they can to help the coroner in the investigation (s 20).
There are special provisions in the Act which relate to ‘Aboriginal remains’; this refers to historical remains and does not apply to a recently deceased Aboriginal person. Section 23 applies to human remains that the coroner suspects may be the remains of an Aboriginal person buried in accordance with Aboriginal custom. If the coroner suspects this to be the case at any stage after the death is reported, they must immediately cease all investigations and refer the matter to an Aboriginal organisation approved by the Attorney-General. This organisation then conducts its own investigation to establish if the human remains are Aboriginal. If it determines that the remains are Aboriginal, then the Aboriginal organisation takes over the investigation. If it determines that the remains are not Aboriginal, then the matter is referred back to the coroner for the usual investigation to occur.
If you are a medical practitioner and you’re seeking information on reporting deaths and the issuing of Medical Certificates of Cause of Death, please refer to the information provided in Key Players in the Process: Other key organisations / parties - When to report a death to the coroner.