Overview of the Coronial process

The following information has been created to provide family and friends with a short overview of the coronial process and what options are available to them. The same information is provided in a diagram below.

For a more detailed overview, read What to expect during the Coronial Process. 

When a death is reported to the Coroner in NSW

Police, medical, health and emergency professionals have a statutory obligation to report sudden and or unexplained deaths to the Coroner. When a report is made, the body of the deceased person is taken to the morgue. At this time, the family or friends may contact a funeral director to begin arranging the funeral. The funeral director should be told that the Coroner is involved.

How long does a Coroner's investigation take?

The Coroner’s job is to find out the identity of the deceased person (if required) and the date, place, medical cause and circumstances of their death. This will usually involve a number of investigations being carried out on the Coroner’s behalf by police, medical specialists and other experts.

If you have information that may assist any aspect of the investigation, you should contact the police. Alternatively, you may submit any information to us by emailing us or posting a letter.

Unfortunately, a number of popular television shows perpetuate the myth that a cause of death can be established quickly and that the Coroner can pinpoint the time of death precisely. Neither of these things is true. The reality is that a coronial investigation is both complex and lengthy. Whilst some cases may be resolved within a few months, the majority of cases take considerably longer. An investigation often takes up to 12 months and in rare instances, even longer.

In cases where the incident that led to the death was unwitnessed, it may not be possible to be at all precise about the time or even the date of death.

Identifying the deceased person

Often, a deceased person can be identified by family, friends or other means. After a person has been identified, a family can register their objection to a post mortem (autopsy) even though the Coroner has not yet decided whether such an examination is required. The views of a family will be considered but the Coroner may decide a post mortem is necessary.

Coroner decides if a post mortem is required

If the Coroner decides a post mortem examination is necessary, this work will be undertaken by a specialist doctor with extensive training and experience. After the examination, organs and tissue are usually returned.

If the examination determines the cause of death was natural, no inquest will be held, and the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages will issue a death certificate. The coronial process is now complete and the family can finalise funeral arrangements. 

Family should not set a date for the funeral until they receive confirmation from the Coroner as to when their loved one will be released into the care of their nominated funeral director.

When a person had not died of natural causes 

If the examination determines the cause of death was not natural, a police investigation will follow.

After reviewing evidence from police and all other evidence, the Coroner will decide if an inquest is needed. If no inquest is required, then the Coronial process is complete and the family can proceed with funeral arrangements.

If a Coronial inquest takes place 

If the Coroner decides an inquest is required, the family of the deceased person will receive a letter advising of the inquest date.

The inquest will be held, and the Coroner will make his or her findings. This will complete the coronial process. A death certificate can be issued, and the family can finalise funeral arrangements.

A diagram showing the steps involved in the coronial process
Image: Stages when families can have input in the coronial process
Return to top of page Back to top