Access to coronial documents
When a Coroner investigates a death or a fire or explosion, the court gathers a range of documents. The Coroner's findings following an inquest are available to the public, however, the individual documents in the court file are not generally available to the public. If you wish to see any of these documents, you must apply to the court for access by completing the Application for Access to Coronial Documents form.
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
- the Coroner's finding
Who can apply for access?
The law imposes limitations on the release of coronial documents because these documents can contain very personal and sometimes highly sensitive information. Documents can only be released if it can be established that the person seeking the documents has an appropriate interest in the information.
The Senior Next-of-Kin can receive documents on an active 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 Court as soon as possible.
An immediate family member (who is not the senior next-of-kin), may be considered to have an appropriate interest and would be able to receive documents on payment of the scheduled fee. If you are a family member, we will ask for proof of your relationship with the deceased, such as a birth certificate, marriage certificate, or any other documents which can prove this before releasing any documents to you.
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 documents, complete the Application for access to coronial documents form 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. The Court to which the application is made will let you know in writing of the outcome of your application.
If you are not the senior next-of-kin you will also need to send proof of your relationship to the deceased person such as a birth certificate.
Please note that if the death was prior to 1963, any person or organisation seeking access to the coronial file should apply directly to State Records of NSW.
For access to coronial documents between 1963 and 2000 the applicant should also attach a copy of the death certificate to which the coronial records relate. Death certificates are obtained from the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
Can an application be refused?
An application may be refused on a number of grounds. Coronial files contain very personal and private information about an individual. In assessing applications to access coronial documents the Coroner has to consider the "appropriateness" of the request using the statutory provisions set out in section 65 of the Coroners Act 2009 as a guide.
The applicant will be advised in writing if the application to access coronial documents is refused and the reasons for this decision.
How long will it take to receive the documents?
The length of time it takes to receive the documents will vary depending on how recent the matter is and the resources of the Court to which your application is made. Priority is always given to processing requests for matters currently before the Court over requests for historical records.
If your request relates to historical archived records (i.e. those more than 4 years old) which have been finalised please allow up to 12 months for the processing of your request.
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. We will consider these concerns before deciding whether to release the documents.
Are there any fees?
Fees for accessing coronial documents are the same as those set out in the Civil Procedure Amendment (Fees) Regulation 2020.
On receiving your application for access, the Court will send you a tax invoice indicating the fees payable for your request. A surcharge of $84.00 is payable if the application for access relates to a death reported more than four years ago as we need to retrieve the coronial file from the government records repository.
The senior next of kin and certain government agencies are exempt from fees, with the exception of the $84.00 surcharge for older records that need to be obtained from the government records repository.
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 Justice media unit.
Guidelines to media on the protocol at the Forensic Medicine and Coroners Court complex at Lidcombe are available at this link.