Coroner’s Officers are police officers who work under the direction of the coroner and liaise with bereaved families, the emergency services, government agencies, doctors, hospitals and funeral directors.
Coroners inquire into deaths reported to them that appear to be of a violent, unnatural, sudden or unknown cause. The coroner will seek to establish the medical cause of death.
The Report on the Provision of Coroner’s Officers (2002) published by the Home Office attempted to categorise some of the various tasks and roles performed by coroner’s officers. These were defined as:
- Forensic investigator
- Medical investigator
- Family liaison
- Statement taker and evidence gatherer
- Public relations manager
- Court usher
The Isle of Man has one dedicated Coroner’s Officer who is a police officer.
The office of coroner dates back to William the Conqueror.
Today coroners are independent judicial officers who must follow laws that apply to coroners and inquests. By law, in the Isle of Man the High Bailiff is always the coroner.
When the coroner’s investigations are complete, a date for the (resumed) inquest is set and the people entitled to be notified will be told. Inquests are open to the public and members of the press are usually present.
Coroners decide who should give evidence as a witness. Anyone who believes they may help, can offer to give evidence, or anyone who believes a particular witness should be called can inform the coroner, in advance, in writing. Witnesses can be compelled to attend only when they reside on the Isle of Man.
The coroner will first question witnesses and there may be further questions by ‘properly interested persons’ or their legal representatives. Questions must be relevant to the purpose of the inquest. Persons with a ‘proper interest’ include:
- Parent, child, spouse, partner or legal personal representatives of the deceased
- People who may have a responsibility for the death
- A beneficiary from an insurance policy relating to the deceased
- Representatives of any relevant insurance company
- A representative of any relevant trade union (if the death arose in connection with the person’s employment or was due to industrial disease)
- Certain inspectors or representatives of an enforcing authority or persons appointed by a government department
- The Chief Officer of Police (by an advocate)
- Any other person, who, in the opinion of the coroner, is a ‘properly interested person’
Inquests with a jury
The inquest will be heard before a jury if the death occurs in prison or whilst in police custody, or as a result of an injury caused by a police officer in the 'performance of his duty' or if the coroner in any other case so determines. In jury inquests, the coroner directs the jury on matters of law and the jury decides the appropriate verdict.
Inquests do not determine blame and the verdict must not identify someone as having any criminal or civil liability. Possible verdicts include: natural causes, accident or misadventure, suicide, unlawful or lawful killing, industrial disease, and open verdicts (where there is insufficient evidence for any other verdict).
The coroner may also report the death to any appropriate person or authority, if action is required to prevent more deaths in similar circumstances.
Additionally, the coroner has jurisdiction to decide whether any gold or silver object(s) found in the Isle of Man, and whose owner cannot be ascertained, amount to Treasure Trove or not.