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Frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions


How do we find out what’s happening?

Anyone in the immediate family may get in touch with the Coronial Services Case Manager and ask to be kept informed about the inquiry.

It is often easier for the family to nominate one person to act on their behalf in all communication with Coronial Services staff.

Members of the immediate family are entitled to a free copy of the post mortem report, unless it’s part of a Police investigation.

Coronial Services will tell the family representative anything important, including when and where an inquest will be held.

The family is entitled to a copy of the Coroner’s finding and any recommendations.

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Can we object to a post mortem and how do we do it?

Yes, you may be able to object.

You cannot object if the death was part of a crime, or delaying the post mortem would make it too hard for the pathologist to see how the person died.

Learn more about objecting to a post mortem here.

If you want to object to a post mortem, depending on the circumstances, you may need to be prepared for some delay before you are able to make funeral arrangements. 

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Can we be near the person while they are at the mortuary?

Yes, it may be possible, with the Coroner’s consent. 

The Coroner takes things like security of the body, and whether or not there are any health risks to people, into consideration when deciding.

Talk to the Coroner or the staff at the mortuary.

Each mortuary is different, some have a whānau/family room. You may be able to stay there while the person is in the mortuary.

You may also ask for someone to represent you at the post-mortem – a doctor, nurse, funeral director – for your own peace of mind.

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When will the person come back to us?

Usually, later in the day of the post mortem.

It might take two or three days if the death is suspicious, or if the medical examination is complicated, or another specialist is needed or the mortuary is some distance away.

It’s important to get in touch with a funeral director as soon as possible, so they can be ready to pick up the person from the mortuary as soon as the Coroner releases the body.

You can arrange the funeral even if there’s going to be an inquest.

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Can we get body tissue samples back?

Yes. If the pathologist takes anything that isn’t used up for testing, you may ask for it to be returned to you. However this needs to be done within five days of being told about any body tissue retention and it needs to be done in writing.

The pathologist isn’t allowed to keep any tissue or body fluid without consulting with the Coroner.

Pathologists are not allowed to keep a whole organ unless the coroner agrees.

Read more about body tissue samples here or download our fact sheet. Click here to download a form to ask for body parts to be returned.

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What can I expect body tissue samples to look like?

At the following page are pictures of wax blocks and glass slides. 

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What is the difference between a coroner and a pathologist?

The coroner is a qualified lawyer appointed as a judicial officer, who is in charge of the legal part to the coronial process and overall investigation into the death.

The pathologist is the specialist doctor, approved by the Chief Coroner, who performs the post mortem. The pathologist provides a post-mortem report to help with the coroner’s inquiry.

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Can we ask for an inquest?

Yes, you may be able to.

Talk about it as soon as possible with a Coronial Services staff member.

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Do we need a lawyer at the inquest?

You don’t have to have one, but you might prefer to.

You’re allowed to ask witnesses relevant questions or to have your lawyer do so at the inquest.

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May we speak to the coroner?

You might be able to, but you need to speak to a Coronial Services staff member first.

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Can we have support at the inquest?

Yes, family and friends often come as support at an inquest.

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Will everything about the death be made public?

Inquests are usually open to anyone who wants to attend, including the media. 

So anyone at an inquest will hear everything that’s said. 

The media can publish what they see and hear, unless the death was suicide or the coroner restricts what’s allowed to be published. 

The family will be sent a copy of the coroner’s finding and any recommendations. These findings are also often sent to the media and public if requested and may be published on this website.

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What if the death was suicide?

If it appears that the person took their own life, there has to be a coroner’s inquiry. 

Once the coroner has consulted with the family, the coroner will then decide if there should also be an inquest.

Most suicide inquiries are completed in chambers by the coroner, without an inquest.

If there is an inquest it will probably be open to the public. Anyone may come, including the media.

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How much will the public find out about a suicide?

Usually, only the person’s name and age before the coroner releases their finding.

If the coroner finds the person did commit suicide, very little more is allowed to be publicised. The media can only report, broadcast or post on the internet:

  • the person’s name 
  • address 
  • occupation
  • that their death was suicide.

The family will need to be careful not to make anything else public. 

Sometimes, the Coroner will release more information if it’s in the public interest.

The coroner’s finding can, however, be requested by any member of the media or the public.

Someone who publicises anything else about a suicide without the coroner’s permission is committing an offence. They may be fined.

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Do you have a concern or a complaint?

We value any feedback and take complaints very seriously.

If you want to make a complaint, please write to:
Operations Manager
Coronial Services
DX Box: SX10044 (what's this)
Wellington

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How can one become a Coroner?

Appointment as Coroner is a statutory one, under section 103 of the Coroners Act 2006. The key minimum criteria are that the applicant must have held a practicing certificate as a barrister and solicitor for at least 5 years.
Appointments are made by the Governor- General, on the advice of the Attorney General given an after consultation with the Minister of Justice.
Further relevant previsions relating to the appointment of Coroners are in sections 104 to 114 of the Coroners Act.
There is a statutory cap of the equivalent of 20 full time Coroners.
As vacancies occur the usual practice is for a request for expressions of interest to be advertised in the relevant metropolitan newspaper/s and other appropriate legal publications, to which the legal profession has access.
The response form used in the past covers contact details, clarification of citizenship and residence status, gender and ethnic information (optional) age etc together with at least three nominated referees who can vouch for character and accuracy of the information supplied.
A statutory declaration is also required confirming no Criminal convictions or disciplinary actions or unresolved complaints. Also that the applicant is financially secure with no bankruptcy or related issues. Also that there is no other matter which might affect credibility in office.
The key criteria at a practical level includes
• An ability to self manage a busy workload under sustained pressure.
• A demonstrated ability to write timely quality findings based on evidence
• A sound cultural awareness of the dynamics of modern New Zealand society.
There is no specific age criteria, but in general, persons in good health in their 40s or 50s tend to be the main group from whom Coroners are selected.

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What is a finding?

A report written by the Coroner about the facts of the death.

It will include who the person was, where, when and how they died.

The Coroner might also make comments or recommendations in their finding to help prevent similar deaths in the future.

The family will be sent a copy of the Coroner's finding once it is completed. They are also often sent to the media and other relevant parties.

In some cases a Coroner may issue a reserved decision.

It is a public document and members of the public can request copies of the finding. They can also be published on this website.

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What is a Coroner's inquiry?

A legal inquiry into a death. It is a process and not a one off event.

Coroners open inquiries so they can find out more about who the person was, where, when and how they died.

Police always inform a Coroner when someone dies unexpectedly, violently or in suspicious circumstances. Coroners don’t inquire into all these deaths.

Sometimes – like when it’s a natural death – they may make a finding without having to open an inquiry.

A Coroner can open an inquiry straightaway or after a few weeks.

Sometimes the Coroner asks for another kind of investigation, perhaps medical (such as a post mortem or doctor’s report) or occupational safety and health (OSH), to help them decide whether to hold an inquiry.

Sometimes the Coroner puts the inquiry on hold (adjourns) until other investigations are finished, such as a police prosecution or an investigation by the Department of Labour or the Health and Disability Commissioner.

As with other jurisdictions, applications can be made to recuse a Coroner or the Chief Coroner from a particular Inquiry. An application in writing should be sent to the Office of the Chief Coroner setting out fully the grounds for the application.

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