Whenever a death is unexpected, unexplained or unnatural, the coroner has to be notified, usually by a doctor or the police.


The majority of these deaths will be completely natural e.g. a heart attack in someone who seemed healthy.  There are a few other circumstances in which all deaths have to be referred to the coroner such as someone detained by the state in a police cell, prison or detention centre or sectioned in a psychiatric hospital.

The coroner and their staff will gather information from family, doctors and any other relevant person to decide if a doctor may issue a certificate of cause of death or a post-mortem examination must be done (see below). 

The closest family member or their representative will be kept informed of all decisions and the reasons for them.  Usually there is no or very little delay to funeral arrangements. If there has to be a delay, the reason for this will be fully explained to the family.

If a post-mortem examination reveals a natural cause of death and there is no other reason for an inquest, the coroner will send the necessary information to the registrar of births and deaths and an appointment made by the family to register the death.

A coroner may decide further investigation of the death is required and may decide to hold an inquest, a formal court hearing, to establish who has died and the cause of their death. Sometimes the investigation may be carried out by other agencies e.g. the police following a homicide or the Health and Safety Executive in the case of an industrial accident. The family will be kept informed of the investigation at regular intervals and will be invited to attend the inquest.  If there is to be an investigation of the death leading to an inquest, the coroner issues a document to the family which can be used to administer an estate that replaces the certified copy of the death certificate.

After an inquest the death is registered by the coroner and the family are able to purchase certified copies of the death certificate.

Here is the link to the government’s own Guide to Coroner Services www.gov.uk/government/publications/guide-to-coroner-services-and-coroner-investigations-a-short-guide

Here is the link to the Coroners Support Service is an excellent source of more information https://coronerscourtssupportservice.org.uk/


A post-mortem examination is a thorough external and internal examination of the body of someone who has died. It is carried out by a pathologist, a doctor who is trained for this work. The doctor will be assisted by anatomical pathology technicians.  These are professional people who will always treat the body with respect and in the vast majority of cases it will be possible for a family to view their relative after the examination, if they wish to do so.

Click for information on Death Certificates


NBS offers support, signposting and legal guidance following a bereavement, as well as offering guidance to anyone planning ahead in anticipation of their own death.

 Company number 09333323


0800 0246 121

Office 10, Consett Innovation Centre, Ponds Court Business Park, Genesis Way, Consett, County Durham, DH8 5XP



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