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When will the coroner investigate the circumstances of a death?

If a Coroner has reason to suspect that a person died in certain circumstances, he or she is under a duty to investigate that death. The Coroners and Justice Act lists the circumstances which require a Coroner to investigate a death. These circumstances are when:

a.    the deceased died a violent or unnatural death 
b.    the cause of death is unknown, or 
c.    the deceased died while in custody or otherwise in state detention.

A Coroner has a broad range of discretion in deciding what will constitute a “violent” or “unnatural” death. For instance, in circumstances where a person has died of a “natural” cause such as a heart attack or cancer, a Coroner may find them “unnatural” if there is reason to suspect that this natural condition may have been triggered by or accelerated by, for example, inappropriate treatment or exposure to a dangerous material such as asbestos. 

The suggestion of human fault may turn what would otherwise be a “natural” death into an “unnatural” one and require a Coroner’s investigation.

The Coroners and Justice Act also requires a Coroner to investigate all deaths which occur in state detention, this includes all deaths in prison and deaths which occur when a person is detained under the Mental Health Act. 

For more information please contact Suzanne White on 020 7650 1200 at Leigh Day for information and support about inquests.

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