Sudden Death and the Coroner

There were 229,600 sudden deaths reported to coroners in 2006. Although many reported deaths prove to be from ‘natural’ causes, the coroner’s involvement causes anxiety. Bereaved relatives find it difficult to get information, and the need to know what happened and getting information, help and advice takes over daily life.

There is no definition of a ‘natural’ death, but it is usually regarded as a death caused by recognised illness or disease. An apparently natural, but unexpected death may be regarded as ‘not natural’ if it happened in threatening or neglectful circumstances.

Examples of deaths which are ‘not natural’ are murder, manslaughter, suicide, road deaths and deaths in disasters. Many other deaths are reported to coroners because they need explanation – the sudden death of an infant, child or young adult; deaths in custody, prison or mental institutions; at work; unexpected deaths in hospital or the community, or deaths alleged to be due to clinical, social negligence or child abuse.

Police investigations assist coroners’ enquiries, but reported deaths may also be investigated by other regulatory agencies and hospitals or social services may conduct internal inquiries. These will usually be completed before an inquest is held.

Coroners can order post mortems without the consent of next-of-kin; for further information Victims’ Voice free booklet ‘Sudden Death and the Coroner – Coroner’s Post Mortem and Inquests’ can be requested.