Coroners and Post Mortems

Referral to Coroners

A coroner is a judicial officer responsible for investigating deaths in certain situations. In most cases, a doctor or the police refer a death to the coroner.

A coroner is involved and a post mortem needs to be done

  • If the cause of death is unknown
  • If the deceased was not attended by a doctor within last 28 days
  • If the death was sudden, violent or caused by an accident
  • If the death was due to any other unnatural causes
  • If the death was caused by an industrial disease

When a death is reported to the office, the Coroner will consider the information and do one of three things:

  1. Give a doctor permission to issue a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death and then take no further action.
  2. Order a post mortem examination.  Depending on the results, the Coroner will (a) find the death natural and close the case; (b) open an investigation, where we obtain further information from doctors or others involved; or (c) open an inquest, which is a fact-finding court hearing about the circumstances of the death.
  3. Open an inquest without a post mortem examination


The aim of a post-mortem requested by a coroner is to find out how someone died and decide whether an inquest is needed. If after a post mortem examination, the cause of death is not known, or due to an accident, violence or other unnatural causes an inquest may be held which is an investigation inquiry into the circumstances surrounding a person’s death, not a trial.

If someone related to you has died and their death has been referred to a coroner, you won’t be asked to give permission for a post-mortem to take place. This is because the coroner is required by law to carry out a post-mortem when a death is suspicious, sudden or unnatural.

A post-mortem will be carried out as soon as possible, usually within 2 to 3 working days of a person’s death.

Post-mortems are sometimes requested by hospital doctors to provide more information about an illness or the cause of death, or to further medical research. Hospital post-mortems can only be carried out with consent

Depending upon when the examination is due to take place, you may be able to see the body before the post-mortem is carried out.

The post-mortem takes place in a licensed examination room that looks similar to an operating theatre and is carried out by a trained independent pathologist. Relatives are entitled in law to send a representative to observe the post mortem, however the representative must be a qualified medical doctor.

During the procedure, the deceased person’s body is opened and the organs removed for examination. A diagnosis can sometimes be made by looking at the organs. The organs are returned to the body after the post-mortem has been completed.

If you wish, you’ll usually be able to view the body after the examination.

After a post-mortem, the pathologist writes a report of the findings.

What happens when the results come back?

When the post mortem is completed, the Pathologist will report the causes of death that they found to the Coroner.  The Coroner will review the information and do one of two things:

  1. If the post mortem shows that the deceased died of natural causes, the Coroner will issue paperwork to the Register Office to allow the death to be registered, inform you of the outcome and take no further action. The body will be released to the Funeral Director that you have chosen to perform the funeral and they will be able to collect the body from the mortuary.
  2. If the post mortem shows an unnatural cause of death, or if the cause of death could not be found at this stage, the Coroner will open an investigation or an inquest.  This is an inquiry which may be followed by a fact-finding court hearing about the circumstances of the death. 

Why must there be a post mortem?

The Coroner must, by law, order a post mortem examination if the cause of death is potentially unnatural or if is not known. 

The Coroner never orders a post mortem without careful consideration.  Where it seems likely that death was due to natural causes, they will discuss the case with the doctor and every effort will be made to certify the cause of death and thus avoid a post mortem. 

Objections to Post Mortems and Religious Considerations

You have the right to object to a post mortem examination being performed by informing the coroner.

The Coroner must follow the law and has the authority to make the final decision and if necessary can order a post mortem even if the family does not agree and an objection may lead to a delay to the funeral arrangements

Is there any way of speeding up the process?

You should inform the coroner to perform the post mortem as soon as possible on religious grounds, who will then order the post mortem examination as soon as practically possible.  This unfortunately may not be immediate as it depends on the capacity of the post mortem facilities and the availability of doctors but will speed the process up.