Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Coroner Definition:

A public official who holds an inquiry into violent or suspicious deaths.

Related Terms: Autopsy, Cadaver

In the English common law, reference to a "coroner" can be found as early as the 11th century. He, or, more recently, she is a public officer, usually a medical doctor, an official investigator of deaths occurring in unusual circumstances, attempting to determine the cause of death.

One 1969 law book noted, the office of coroner exists to:

"... conduct an inquiry, sometimes with the aid of a jury, into the cause of death of persons who appear to have come to an end from other than natural causes."1

In almost all common law jurisdictions, at this time, the office, responsibility and jurisdiction of the coroner is set out in statute, all resembling this sample taken from the Coroner's and Justice Act 2009 of the United Kingdom:

"1. (1) A ... coroner who is made aware that the body of a deceased person is within that coroner's area must as soon as practicable conduct an investigation into the person's death if subsection (2) applies.

"(2)This subsection applies if the coroner has reason to suspect that (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."

cadaverThe coroner can preside over an inquiry, called a coroner's inquest or inquisition. The result is a report as to the cause of death.

Two frequent features of a coroner's inquest is the involvement of experts and an autopsy on the cadaver.

In recent times, the coroner can even make recommendations to a legislative assembly as to changes in existing laws where he or she come to the conclusion that such a change in laws could prevent future fatalities from occurring in similar circumstances.

In most cases, a coroner has the power to summon people to the inquest but is not a criminal court of record.

It is only rarely assisted, now, by a jury.


  • Coroners and Justice Act 2009, Chapter 25. [Available on the Internet on 2014-04-13 at http://www.bailii.org/uk/legis/num_act/2009/ukpga_20090025_en_1.html]
  • Coroners ActR.S.O. 1990, c. C.37 [Available on the Internet as of 2014-04-13 at http://www.canlii.org/en/on/laws/stat/rso-1990-c-c37/100577/rso-1990-c-c37.html]
  • NOTE 1: Anderson, W., Ballentyne's Law Dictionary, 3rd Ed. (Rochester: The Lawyers Co-operative Publishing Company, 1969), page 273

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