The Black Country Coroner Jurisdiction
The Coroner’s Post Mortem - a Guide for Families
Once a death is referred to the Coroner and a body exists, then the Coroner has legal control over the body of the deceased until their legal coronial functions come to an end.
ONLY the Coroner has lawful authority to permit a post mortem examination of the deceased. A Coroners post mortem is a judicially authorised medical examination to ascertain the cause of death.
The purpose of a post mortem (PM) is to assist the Coroner with their statutory duty to establish who died, when, where and how (by what means) they came by their death.
The Coroner may order a post mortem examination as part of either a preliminary inquiry or as part of an investigation.
In answering the question as to how (by what means) someone came by their death the coroner is required to establish a medical cause for the death and sometimes the only way this can be done is through a post mortem examination. A post mortem examination as ordered by a Coroner is not a mandatory requirement of death investigation.
Sometimes it may be possible to obtain a medical cause for the death from a qualified medical practitioner i.e. a GP or hospital Doctor. You will be informed if the Coroner has ordered a post mortem examination and what type.
There are different types of PM which range from an external examination, toxicology (blood, urine or other bodily fluids) and histology tests (organ and/or tissue samples), CT or MRI scanning (also known as digital autopsy), full internal invasive examination or in some cases a Forensic examination.
There are different arrangements for post mortems of babies and young children and the team will advise you about this. In the Black Country, the majority of post mortems take the form of a digital autopsy but it is the Coroner who decides on the form of examination.
There are other post mortems conducted, for example hospital post mortems which are NOT ordered by the Coroner.
Who conducts a post mortem?
Post mortems are for the most part undertaken by consultant histopathologists who work in a hospital or for an NHS Trust.
In their work for the Coroner they are considered to be independent. Sometimes, a post mortem is undertaken by a Home Office registered Forensic Pathologist or a specialist pathologist (e.g. paediatric).
Can I object to a post mortem?
The Coroner has a statutory duty to investigate deaths where the deceased has died a violent or unnatural death; the cause of death is unknown or the deceased died in custody or otherwise in state detention and may order a post mortem examination as part of either a preliminary inquiry or as part of an investigation.
Consent of the next of kin is NOT required for a Coroner’s post mortem of whatever type but we will discuss this with you and take your views into account.
If you have a religious or other objection to a particular type of post mortem then please let a member of our team know.
The Coroner will take into account any objections raised.
When will the results be available and what will happen next?
Subject to the type of examination undertaken, the results may be known within a few days or sometimes it can take several months particularly if toxicology or history samples have been taken.
A medical cause of death will be provided to the Coroner on a balance of probability i.e. what is most likely based on the information available and taking into account what is found during the examination. On rare occasions, it may not be possible to establish a medical cause of death for example where a person has been deceased for some time before they are found.
In limited circumstances the Coroner may order a second post mortem. If this is under consideration our team will discuss this with you.
The deceased will be released as soon as reasonably practicable usually once a post mortem has been completed. If the Coroner cannot release the deceased within 28 days then the Coroner has a duty to notify the next of kin of the reasons why.
The deceased can be released for burial/cremation/repatriation before any medical cause of death is established on the authority of the Coroner.
The Coroner is required to hold an inquest into those cases where the deceased has died a violent or unnatural death, where the cause of death is unknown or the deceased died in custody or otherwise in state detention.
Our team will discuss this with you and keep you informed at each stage of the Coronial inquiry or investigation.