AskDefine | Define coroner

Dictionary Definition

coroner n : a public official who investigates by inquest any death not due to natural causes [syn: medical examiner]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. a public official who presides over an inquest into unnatural deaths.
    Medical examiner, or ME.
    • The edict that formally established the Coroners was Article 20 of the "Articles of Eyre" in September 1194.


a public official


Extensive Definition

A coroner is an official responsible for investigating deaths, particularly those happening under unusual circumstances, and determining the cause of death. Depending on the jurisdiction, the coroner may adjudge the cause himself, or act as the presiding officer of a special court (a "coroner's jury").
In some countries, coroners have additional investigatory roles . For example, in the United Kingdom under the Treasure Act 1996 a coroner will determine the most likely manner in which treasure came to be in the place where it was found (whether it was lost or hidden) which will determine the legal entitlements to the treasure trove.
Many jurisdictions have a coroner or their equivalent. Medical examiner is a frequent alternative title in the United States; however, unlike a coroner, a medical examiner must be a licensed pathologist.


Coroners in Australia derive their authority and functions from the ancient English office. The office of coroner came to Australia in the First Fleet with Governor Arthur Phillip having the authority to act as a coroner and appoint coroners as necessary.
In all states and territories of Australia, the office of coroner continues to this day.


Coroners in Canada are responsible for the investigation of all unnatural, sudden and unexpected, unexplained or unattended deaths. The coroners make and offer recommendations to improve public safety and prevention of death in similar circumstances.
Coroners in Canada are under the jurisdiction of provincial ministries of public security (formerly Solicitor General) or minister of justice/attorney general.
Most coroners in Canada, like in the United States are medical doctors with a few exceptions. British Columbia's former coroner Larry Campbell was not a medical doctor.

England and Wales

In England and Wales a coroner is a judicial officer appointed and paid for by the local authority. The coronial system is under the control of the Ministry of Justice, which is headed by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.


The post of coroner is ancient, dating from approximately the 11th century, shortly after the Norman conquest of England in 1066.
The office of Coroner was formally established in England by Article 20 of the "Articles of Eyre" in September 1194 to "keep the pleas of the Crown" or in Latin "custos placitorum coronas" from which the word "coroner" is derived. This role provided a local county official whose primary duty was to protect the financial interest of the crown in criminal proceedings. The office of coroner is, "in many instances, a necessary substitute: for if the sheriff is interested in a suit, or if he is of affinity with one of the parties to a suit, the coroner must execute and return the process of the courts of justice." This role was qualified in Chapter 24 of Magna Carta in 1215 which states: "No sheriff, constable, coroner or bailiff shall hold pleas of our Crown". "Keeping the pleas" was an administrative task, while "holding the pleas" was a judicial one which was not assigned to the locally resident coroner but left to judges who travelled around the country holding Assize Courts. The role of Custos rotulorum or keeper of the county records became an independent office which after 1836 was held by the Lord Lieutenant of each county.
The person who found a body whose death was thought to be sudden or unnatural was required to raise the "hue and cry" and to notify the coroner.
Coroners were introduced into Wales following its military conquest by Edward I of England in 1282 through the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284.


To become a coroner in England and Wales the applicant must be a lawyer (solicitor/barrister) or doctor of at least five years standing. This reflects the role of a coroner, to determine the cause of death of a deceased in cases where the death was sudden, unexpected, occurred abroad, was suspicious in any way or happened while the person was under the control of central authority (e.g., in police cells).
Aside from the usual coroners, certain persons are ex officio coroners in limited circumstances—for example the Lord Chancellor has been historically allowed to certify the death of someone killed in rebellion.


The coroner's jurisdiction is limited to finding the name of the deceased and the cause of death. When the death was unexpected, violent or unnatural, the coroner will decide whether to hold a post-mortem and, if necessary, an inquest. The most common verdicts include: death by misadventure, accidental death, unlawful killing, lawful killing, suicide, natural causes, an open verdict or a narrative verdict. The coroner's former power to name a suspect for trial upon inquisition has been abolished. The coroner's verdict will sometimes be persuasive for the police and Crown Prosecution Service, but normally proceedings in the coroner's court are suspended until after the final outcome of any criminal case is known. More usually, a coroner's verdict will also frequently be relied upon in civil proceedings and insurance claims.
"Lawful killing" includes lawful self-defence, or where a doctor lawfully administers a painkiller from which the patient dies.


Any person aware of a dead body lying in the district of a coroner has a duty to report it to the coroner; failure to do so is an offence. This can include bodies brought into England or Wales (for example, when there is a death in the military abroad the body is returned to RAF Brize Norton and so is dealt with by Oxfordshire Coroners Court). The coroner has a team of Coroners Officers (previously often an ex-policeman but often now from a nursing or other paramedical background) who carry out the investigation on the coroner's behalf. On the basis of the investigation, the coroner decides whether an inquest is appropriate. When a person dies in the custody of the legal authorities (in police cells, or in prison), an inquest must be held. In England, inquests are usually heard without a jury (unless the coroner wants one). However, a case in which a person has died under the control of central authority must have a jury, as a check on the possible abuse of governmental power.
The coroner's court is a court of law, and accordingly the coroner may summon witnesses, and people found to be lying are guilty of perjury.
Additional powers of the coroner may include the power of subpoena and attachment, the power of arrest, the power to administer oaths, and sequester juries of six during inquests.
Coroners also have a role in treasure trove cases. This role arose from the ancient duty of the coroner as a protector of the property of The Crown. It is now contained in the Treasure Act 1996.

Hong Kong

The Coroner's Court is responsible to inquire into the causes and circumstances of certain deaths. The Coroner is a judicial officer who has the power to:
  • grant burial orders
  • grant cremation orders
  • grant waivers of autopsy
  • grant autopsy orders
  • grant exhumation orders
  • grant orders to remove dead bodies outside Hong Kong
  • order police investigations of death
  • order inquests to be held
  • approve removal and use of body parts of the dead body
  • issue certificates of fact of death
The Coroner makes orders after considering the pathologist's report.

United States

coroner in Danish: Retsmediciner
coroner in French: Médecin légiste
coroner in Japanese: 検視官
coroner in Russian: Следователь по убийствам
coroner in Chinese: 死因裁判官

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Doctor of Medicine, GP, MD, allopath, allopathist, attending physician, autopsy, country doctor, croaker, doc, doctor, family doctor, general practitioner, house physician, inquest, intern, leech, medical attendant, medical examiner, medical man, medical practitioner, medico, mortality committee, necropsy, necroscopy, physician, physician in ordinary, postmortem, postmortem examination, resident, resident physician, sawbones
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