Access to coronial documents
When a Coroner investigates a death or a fire or explosion, the court gathers a range of documents which make up the coronial file. The majority of Coroner's findings following an inquest are available to the public. However, individual documents in a coronial file are only available to persons or organisations with an appropriate interest in the coronial matter.
What types of documents does the court have?
A court file can contain many different documents. This will depend on how complex the investigation is and the age of the matter. Documents can include:
- police reports;
- witness statements;
- expert reports;
- autopsy reports;
- transcripts; or
- the Coroner's finding.
Who can apply for access?
The law imposes limitations on the release of coronial documents because these documents contain very personal and sometimes highly sensitive information. Prior to applying for coronial documents, you should consider that it may be upsetting and distressing to read details about a loved one's death.
The Senior Next-of-Kin can receive documents on an open file free of charge by sending in a written request to the Court. If the senior next-of-kin wants any of the documents not to be sent out to anyone else, they must indicate this in writing to the Coroner as soon as possible.
Other family members (who are not the senior next-of-kin), may be considered to have an appropriate interest to receive documents from a coronial file. These applicants will need to attach proof of their relationship with the deceased to their application - such as a birth certificate, marriage certificate, or any other documents which support the application. They will also need to state in their application the reasons why they are seeking access to the coronial documents.
Documents may also be released to:
- a statutory body for a statutory function;
- a member of the police force for law enforcement;
- researchers, for research approved by an ethics committee; or
- anyone who can satisfy the Coroner that they have an appropriate interest to receive the information.
How do you apply for access to documents?
To apply for access to coronial documents, please complete the Application for access to coronial documents form (DOC, 62.0 KB)and post or email it to the Court at which the matter is being determined, or was determined. A full list of NSW Courts and their contact details can be accessed here.
Please ensure that this form is completed in full and returned either by email or post to the relevant Court.
Who decides my application?
The Coroner managing the coronial case will decide whether to approve the application. In some cases the Coroner will impose a condition on release of a document.
If a Coroner refuses an application they will provide reasons, such as where it may hinder an ongoing criminal investigation or the person who applied has an insufficient interest.
Access to historical coronial files
Applications to access historical coronial files must be made on a Form 24 Application to Access Coronial Documents and sent to the Coroner at the Court where the matter was determined.
Applications to access coronial files where the death occurred between 1963 to 2000 will only be considered where the applicant completes the Form 24 and also attaches the following documentation:
- Death certificate for the deceased; and
- Proof of your relationship to the deceased, such as a death certificate or birth certificate.
Applications to access coronial files where the death was prior to 1963 should be made directly to State Records of NSW.
How long will it take to receive the documents?
The length of time it takes for the application to be processed varies as it is dependent on how recent the matter is and the resources of the Court to which your application is made. Priority is given to processing applications for matters currently before a Coroner over requests for historical records.
In some cases we need to contact the Senior next of kin to let them know we have received a request for information and ask if they have any concerns with documents being released. The Coroner has to consider these concerns before deciding whether to release the documents.
For applications to access historical coronial records please allow up to 12 months for your application to be processed, noting your application may not be processed if it does not contain the supporting documentation stated in the preceding paragraph.
Are there any fees?
There are fees to access coronial documents or obtain copies. These are contained in the Civil Procedure Amendment (Fees) Regulation 2020.
If you are the senior next-of-kin fees are typically not payable, unless your request relates to historical archived records.
If your application to access is granted you will be sent a tax invoice indicating the fee payable. Please note that records will not be provided until this invoice is paid.
In regards to accessing historical archived files there is a minimum fee of $88.00.
The following government agencies are exempt from paying fees. The specific exemptions apply to both transcript and copying fees unless otherwise stated.
- Commissioner for Children & Young Persons & authorised screening agencies
- Director of Public Prosecutions
- Crown Solicitor's Office (when assisting the Coroner)
- Legal Aid, Aboriginal Legal Services & community/government legal services
- Judicial Commission
- Mental Health Review Tribunal
- Corrective Services NSW
If you cannot afford to pay the fees, you may apply to have the fees waived or postponed. For more information, see the courts' fee waiver policy
Applications by media to access coronial documents or any other material concerning a coronial inquest must be made through the Department of Communities and Justice media unit.
Guidelines to media on the protocol at the Forensic Medicine and Coroners Court complex at Lidcombe are available at this link (PDF, 173.2 KB).