The police will report the death and details of their investigation to the coroner, who will hold an inquiry. An inquiry establishes the identity of the person who died and the date, place, cause and circumstances of the death. The coroner can decide to hold a ‘hearing on the papers’ or an inquest.
A ‘hearing on the papers’ is when the coroner makes a finding after reading all the evidence that has been provided to them. This takes place in the coroner’s chambers. Only the coroner is present. No one else can attend.
An inquest is a court hearing and anyone may attend, including the media. However, sometimes the coroner may decide to keep people out of the inquest, or part of it.
In both types of inquiry, family or whānau are given the opportunity to present evidence about the person. This can help the coroner understand who the person was, and what was going on for them. Knowing what to say or write can be a complex task. There may be a lot of information to organise. If you need support, ask someone you trust to help you do this.
When a coroner’s inquiry is complete, the coroner releases a finding. It will include who the person was, and where, when and how they died. The coroner might also make comments or recommendations in their finding to help prevent similar deaths in future. The family or whānau will be sent a copy of the coroner’s finding, and a copy may be sent to others, including media. A finding is a public document, and any member of the public can request copies.
Managing the coronial process
The coronial process takes place over a period of time. During this time, a Coronial Services Case Manager can assist you with any inquiries and if necessary, communicate with the coroner on your behalf.
Anyone in the family or whānau can get in touch with a Coronial Services Case Manager and ask to be kept informed about the process. It may help to nominate one family or whānau member to act on behalf of the family.
For Māori families, an iwi liaison police officer is available to liaise on their behalf with the coroner’s office. Victim Support can also support families, whānau and friends by liaising with the coroner over these matters.
More information about the coroner’s process is available in a booklet, When someone dies suddenly: A Guide to Coronial Services in New Zealand. This is available online, or from the district court, the police, your funeral director, the Ministry of Justice, or Victim Support.
If you would like to get in touch with Coronial Service staff, including Coronial Case Managers, a list of local offices and contact details can be found on the Coronial Services website.