Coroners Service for Northern Ireland

Care provided after death:

The Coroner is an independent judicial officer who investigates sudden, unexpected, suspicious or unnatural deaths occurring anywhere in Northern Ireland. The law places a duty on police officers, doctors, undertakers and owners of residential homes to report certain deaths. Deaths will sometimes also come to the attention of the Coroner because of concerns raised by families or members of the public.

The majority of deaths reported to the Coroner are dealt with quickly and administratively. However, where a question arises over the cause of death or the circumstances leading up to the death, the Coroner may order that a post-mortem examination be conducted. Although the Coroner will be sympathetic to religious and cultural sensitivities as well as family views regarding such examinations, consent is not required


  • Seeks to establish the cause of death and makes whatever inquiries are necessary to do this e.g. ordering a post-mortem examination, obtaining witness statements and medical records, or holding an inquest
  • Issues Coroner’s certificate of cause of death to families if inquest delays death registration
  • Issues a Coroner’s certificate to allow removal of bodies out of Northern Ireland

Inquires into reported deaths that appear to be:

  • Unexpected or unexplained
  • As a result of violence
  • As a result of an accident
  • As a result of negligence
  • From any cause other than natural illness or disease, or
  • In circumstances that may require investigation

Coroners Medical Advisor:

  • Discusses sudden hospital and home deaths with clinicians/GPs and advises whether completion of Medical Certificate of Cause of Death or Proforma is possible; or that Coroners post-mortem examination is required
  • Communicates with families who require further explanation regarding circumstances of death

Coroners Liaison Officer:

  • Makes contact with family of the deceased requiring a Coroners post-mortem examination
  • Informs families of preliminary cause of death, if this is known, following post-mortem examination
  • Tells families if any tissue or organs were retained at post-mortem examination, explains why they have been retained
  • Ascertains family’s decision regarding return or disposal of tissues/organs and forwards information to mortuary where they are being held
  • Explains the processes and stages in the Coroner’s investigation and whether an inquest will take place

PSNI acting as Coroners agent

  • Attends the scene of sudden death and ascertains identity of the deceased
  • Establishes next of kin and informs them that death has occurred, if relevant
  • Gathers information to determine whether involvement of Coroner is necessary

If yes:

  • Takes possession of the body
  • Establishes identity of the deceased
  • Provides information to pathologist to inform post-mortem examination
  • Arranges removal of body to mortuary
  • Following post-mortem examination informs Coroners Liaison Officer of preliminary cause of death
  • Prepares inquest file if relevant

The State Pathologist’s Department

  • Provides independent forensic pathology services for Northern Ireland
  • Comprises consultant forensic pathologists, mortuary and laboratory staff
  • Provides a service to Coroners in investigating the cause of death when it occurs suddenly, suspiciously or unnaturally
  • Prepares autopsy reports, giving evidence at Coroners’ inquests
  • Facilitates and supports families who attend for identification of the deceased
  • Performs approx. 1200 autopsies per year on behalf of Coroners Service for Northern Ireland to ascertain cause of sudden, suspicious or unexplained death

For more information regarding post mortem-examination, please see Pathology Services.

Works alongside:

  • PSNI
  • State Pathologist
  • Mortuary staff
  • Forensic sciences
  • Funeral directors
  • Hospital and community doctors
  • Residential home owners
  • Clinical Lead/Specialist Nurse Organ Donation
  • Registrar
  • Courts
  • Trust governance and Bereavement Coordinators

The Standard of Bereavement Care is enhanced when:

  • Information is communicated in a clear and sensitive manner
  • When HSC staff are familiar with Guidance as issued by the DHSSPS and the Coroners Service, which provides an overview of their responsibilities related to death certification and referrals to the Coroner. Working with the Coroners Service for Northern Ireland(PDF).pdf

For more information:

Standards and Guidelines:
Coroners Service Charter

Coroners Act (NI) 1959

Coroners (Practice and Procedure) Rules (NI) 1963

Human Tissue Act 2004

Code of Practice 3, Post Mortem, September 2009, Human Tissue Authority

Code of practice 5, Disposal, September 2009, Human Tissue Authority