This section describes the functions of the Coroner with particular reference to procedure in Cork City. It is intended as a guide for the benefit of the general public and interested parties. Further information is available from the Coroner's Office
Monday to Friday: 9.00am to 5.00pm
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The Coroner is an independent official with responsibility under the law for the medicolegal investigation of certain deaths. A Coroner must inquire into the circumstances of sudden, unexplained, violent and unnatural deaths. This may require a post-mortem examination, sometimes followed by an inquest. The Coroner's inquiry is concerned with establishing whether or not death was due to natural or unnatural causes. If a death is due to unnatural causes then an inquest must be held by law.
When a death occurs suddenly or unexpectedly or is due to an unnatural cause the death must be reported to the Coroner. The Coroner will not be involved where a person died from natural illness or disease for which he/she was being treated by a doctor within one month prior to death. In such a case the doctor will issue the medical certificate of the cause of death and the death will be registered accordingly. In these cases the Coroner is not usually involved.
In cases of sudden, unnatural or violent death there is a legal responsibility on the doctor, registrar of deaths, funeral undertaker, householder and every person in charge of any institution or premises in which the deceased person was residing at the time of his/her death to report such a death to the Coroner. The death may be reported to a member of the Garda Siochana not below the rank of sergeant who will notify the Coroner. However at common law, any person may notify the Coroner of the circumstances of a particular death.
Deaths reportable to the Coroner include the following:
Deaths occurring at home or other place of residence
Where the deceased was not attended by a doctor during the last illness
Where the deceased was not seen and treated by a doctor within one month prior to the date of death
Where the death was sudden and unexpected
Where the death may have resulted from an accident, suicide or homicide
Where the cause of death is unknown or uncertain
Deaths occurring in hospital
Where the death may have resulted from an accident, suicide or homicide
Where any question of misadventure arises in relation to the treatment of the deceased
Where a patient dies before a diagnosis is made
When death occurred while a patient was undergoing an operation or was under the effect of an anaesthetic
Where the death occurred during or as a result of any procedure
Where the death resulted from any industrial disease
Where a death was due to neglect or lack of care (including self neglect)
Where the death occurred in a Mental Hospital
Where the death occurred in a public or private resdieent unit for care of the elderly
Where the death occurred in relation to a healthcare acquired infection
A death is reported to the Coroner by a member of the Garda Siochana
Where a death may have resulted from an accident, suicide or homicide
Where a death occurred in suspicious circumstances
Where there is an unexpected or unexplained death
Where a dead body is found
Where there is no doctor who can certify the cause of death
A death is reported to the Coroner by the Governor of a Prison
Following the death of a prisoner
Other categories of death reportable include:
Sudden infant deaths
The death of a child in care
Where a body is to be removed abroad
If in doubt as to whether or not a death is properly reportable please consult with the Coroner or his staff who will advise accordingly. The fact that a death is reported to the Coroner does not mean that an autopsy will always be required.
The Coroner is available for consultation outside office hours, however except when the matter is urgent, cases will normally be reported before 11.00 p.m. or after 8.00 a.m.
Where a death occurs suddenly the Coroner will inquire into the circumstances and will ascertain whether or not there is a doctor who is in a position to certify the cause of death. The doctor must have seen and treated the person within a month prior to the death, the cause of death must be known and the death must be due to natural causes. If these conditions are fulfilled and there are no other matters requiring investigation the Coroner will permit the doctor to complete a medical certificate of the cause of death and the death will be registered accordingly.
Where a medical certificate of the cause of death cannot be signed the Coroner will arrange for a post-mortem examination to be carried out. If the post-mortem examination reveals that death was due to natural causes and there is no need for an inquest the Coroner will issue a certificate so that the death may be registered.
The post-mortem examination (autopsy) is a procedure to establish the cause of death. All stages will be carried out in a professional manner. There is no disfigurement of the body, which may be viewed afterwards in the same manner as if no post-mortem had been performed.
N.B. It may take up to three months (occasionally longer) before a post-mortem report from the pathologist is received at the Coroner's Office. The death cannot be registered until the post-mortem report is received.
Queries relating to post-mortem reports should be made to the Coroner's office and not to the hospital concerned. The Coroners Office will keep next-of-kin informed of the progress of the enquiry.
If the death is due to natural causes the Coroner's Certificate will be issued to the Registrar of Births and Deaths who will proceed to register the death. The Registrar will then issue the Death Certificate.
If the death is due to unnatural causes an inquest must be held. The death will be registered when the inquest is concluded (or adjourned in some cases).
Prior to the inquest being held (or while awaiting the post-mortem report) the Coroner's Office will provide on request an Interim Certificate of the fact of Death which may be acceptable to banks, the probate office and other institutions.
In certain Coroners Post Mortems during the course of the autopsy the Pathologist may find it necessary to retain an organ for further examination to establish the exact cause of death. In such cases the next of kin will be advised at the time of the post mortem examination by the Pathologist who will explain the procedure to them
The Garda Siochana will assist the Coroner in arranging a formal identification of the body by a member of the family, or a relative of the deceased. The Gardai will send a report to the Coroner on the circumstances of the death. The fact that relatives may be met at the hospital by a uniformed Garda or that a Garda may call to the home to take a deposition, does not mean that the death is regarded as suspicious. Members of the Gardai will in most cases be acting also as Coroner's officers.
When a death is reported to the Coroner funeral arrangements should not be made until the body is released or the Coroner has indicated when release will occur. This is important at all times, but particularly so at bank holiday weekends. Cremation cannot take place until the appropriate Coroner's certificate is issued.
The body will normally be released to the spouse or next-of-kin immediately after the post-mortem examination has been completed, (irrespective of whether or not an inquest is to take place). (See note 7 above).
Death must be registered with the Registrar of Births and Deaths for the registration district in which the death occurs. A relative or other eligible person must obtain a Medical Certificate of the Cause of Death from the medical practitioner who attended the deceased during the last illness. The certificate is brought to the District Registrar's office where the death is registered and the Death Certificate issued. Where a death occurs in hospital the death may be registered by a member of the hospital staff. Where a death is reported to the Coroner and is the subject of a post-mortem examination or inquest, the death will be registered when the Coroner issues his certificate after the post-mortem or inquest. The death certificate will then be available from the District Registrar's office. Information on registration may be obtained from: The Registrar's Office, Adelaide Court, Adelaide Street, Cork. Telephone No:- 021 - 4275126.
Monday to Friday inclusive : 9.15am to 4.00p.m.
An inquest is an inquiry in public by a Coroner, sitting with or without a jury into the circumstances surrounding a death. An inquest must be held by law when a death is due to unnatural causes. The inquest will establish the identity of the deceased, how, when, and where the death occurred and the particulars which are required to be registered by the Registrar of Deaths. Questions of civil or criminal liability cannot be considered or investigated at an inquest and no person can be exonerated. The purpose of the inquest therefore is to establish the facts surrounding the death and to place those facts on the public record and to make findings on the identification of the deceased, the date and place of death and the cause of death. A verdict will be returned in relation to the means by which the death occurred. The range of verdicts open to a Coroner or jury include accidental death, misadventure, suicide, open verdict, natural causes (if so found at inquest) and in certain circumstances, unlawful killing.
If an inquest is to be held, the Coroner is usually able to allow burial or cremation once the post-mortem examination of the body has been completed (see note 7 above). Certain documents will be issued by the Coroner where a body is to be cremated or removed out of the country (see also note 18).
A jury is required in the following circumstances:
The Coroner will decide which witnesses should attend and in what order whey will be required to give evidence. The evidence will be presented in a manner so as to provide a logical sequence in relation to the circumstances surrounding the death. The autopsy report will establish the medical cause of death. Some family members may prefer not to hear details of the post-mortem examination. The Coroner will indicate when the autopsy report is to be taken so that such persons may withdraw and return later during the inquest. Any person who wishes to give evidence is entitled to come forward at the inquest but the evidence tendered must be relevant to the purpose of the inquest. A person wishing to give evidence at an inquest should make this fact known to the Coroner as soon as possible.
Any person who has a proper interest in the inquest (a properly interested person) may personally examine a witness or may be legally represented by a solicitor or barrister. Properly interested persons include:
It is helpful if solicitors notify the Coroner prior to the inquest that they have been so instructed
Depositions taken at inquest including a copy of the verdict are available from the Coroner's office on payment of the statutory fee, once the inquest has concluded. It should be noted that the inquest papers are not available prior to the inquest being held.
All inquests are held in public and reporters may be present. In practice a minority of inquests are reported. The Coroner is aware of the tragic circumstances and will endeavour to treat each one sympathetically. The existence of suicide notes will be acknowledged but the contents will not be read out, except at the specific request of the next-of-kin and then only at the discretion of the Coroner. Every attempt is made to ensure that the inquest proceedings are not unduly intrusive on families concerned.
If a death is (or will be) properly reportable to the Coroner, his permission is required before organs are harvested for transplantation. In addition the written consent of the next-of-kin is required. If the Coroner grants permission for organ harvesting the subsequent post-mortem examination will be a limited one. The matter must be fully discussed with the Coroner, at the appropriate time, to allow him to reach a decision in the matter. In general, the Coroner will facilitate requests for organ harvesting and transplantation.
The district Coroner must be notified in every case where a body is to be taken abroad, whether or not there has been a Coroners inquiry, post-mortem examination or an inquest. This applies even if the death was due to natural causes and has been certified by a doctor (i.e. not originally a Coroner's case). It is the Coroner in whose district the body is lying who must be notified. If satisfied in relation to the cause of death the Coroner will issue a certificate, usually to the funeral director, for presentation to the appropriate authorities permitting removal of the body from the jurisdiction.
When a body is returned to Ireland following death abroad, the Coroner will not normally be involved, except where a question in relation to an unnatural death abroad occurs or when next-of-kin raise concerns with the Coroner in relation to the circumstances surrounding a death.