The homicide death of someone close to you is one of the most traumatic experiences a person can face. This page provides information on the next steps to help you get through a very challenging time.
Many people and agencies become involved after a suspected homicide. They understand how distressing this time is and will work respectfully and with care.
This section explains the roles of the key people you may meet and some of the legal processes that must happen. Click on the boxes below for information on each of these.
Emergency services respond to 111 calls. It could be Ambulance, Fire and Emergency, or Police, or several of them. Their teams will do everything they need to and explain what will happen next. Someone from emergency services will always remain at the scene until police arrive. The safety and protection of you and your family or whānau is also a priority.
The law requires police to investigate the cause of every unexplained sudden death, on behalf of the coroner. This can take considerable time. Sometimes it can be unclear if a death was by homicide or another cause. To investigate they must ask some questions and speak with any witnesses and those who discovered the death. They are also likely to speak with close family, whānau, and friends of the person who died.
The police will remain at the scene until the forensic investigation is completed. They will collect all related physical evidence needed to assist in their investigation. They will take photos and sometimes might need to take personal items away, but these will be recorded and returned later. The forensic investigation can be upsetting, but police must do this. Note down the name and contact details of the officer you speak with in case you have questions later.
When police visit a family or whānau, they will organise for a Victim Support Worker to come with them or they will arrange for a Support Worker to be in touch as soon as possible.
The police will also assign a Family Liaison Officer to support your family and whānau. This office will let you know what's happening throughout the investigation and any court case. They can answer questions you have about any aspect of the case and will tell you how to contact them.
If you’d also like the support of a specialist Iwi, Pacific and Ethnic and Pacific Liaison Officer to listen to any cultural concerns you may have, ask your Family Liaison Officer to contact one for you.
To formally confirm the identity of the person who died, police may ask you, or someone else who knew the person well, to assist them to do this.
Publicly, police will only officially release to the media the name of the person who died, when formal identification has been made. They will talk with family or whānau about the timing of the release of this information.
The police are dedicated to working hard to find, and to bring to justice, whoever it was who did the crime.
We have a free, specialist service for families, whānau, and friends affected by homicide. This includes highly trained Support Workers who specialise in homicide support. They have in-depth knowledge of the impact of homicide on people, the services available, and the criminal justice process following a homicide.
We offer support to immediate families and whānau of homicide victims, as well as witnesses. Police can introduce you to a Support Worker or you can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected to a Support Worker.
After the initial forensic investigation is completed police will contact a duty funeral director to transfer the person who has died to the nearest hospital mortuary (unless they died in a hospital). The person’s body will be safely kept there until they are formally identified, and their cause of death is confirmed. There is no cost for this transfer.
The person’s body will be taken to the nearest hospital mortuary (or morgue), where they will be safely kept until they are formally identified, and the cause of death confirmed. The hospital mortuary team work respectfully at all times and are led by pathologists, who are specially trained doctors.
After a homicide, a local coroner will request that a post-mortem is done, which is a physical examination of the person’s body, (See more about this below.)
Before the post mortem, close members of family and whānau can ask to view and spend time with the person’s body at the mortuary. This will most likely be behind a screen or window. All viewings must be authorised by the duty coroner. This is because the body remains the responsibility of the coroner until it is released to the immediate family or whānau. You can ask your police Family Liaison Officer or Support Worker to help you arrange a viewing through the duty coroner's office.
Some hospitals have a family or whānau room for viewing, usually with a screen or window between them and their loved one. The family won’t be able to touch the body or remove items from the body. For cultural or spiritual reasons, families and whānau can sometimes sit in a dedicated room until the person’s body has been released to them.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to view the person’s body. This is usually when they’ve been very badly injured. If this happens, this will be explained to you.
If you wish, you could talk to a funeral director of your choice about any other options there are for sitting with or viewing the person’s body after it has been released from the mortuary, or about following any specific cultural traditions you need respected at this time. (See the box below Your chosen funeral director.)
If you and your family and whānau decide to view the body at any stage, it can help to know that the person’s body will look different – for example, their facial features and skin colour are likely to have changed. This is normal but can understandably be unsettling for some people.
A post mortem (or autopsy) will be ordered by the coroner, who is the person legally responsible for establishing how a person has died. After a suspected homicide, a post mortem/investigation is required to confirm the cause of death. When this process is carefully completed, the person’s body can be collected by a family’s chosen funeral director.
The post mortem is done by a pathologist, who is a specially trained doctor. They will examine the person’s body to find out exactly how they died. It may be a full post mortem, when the person’s whole body is surgically examined internally and externally. Or it may be a lesser post mortem, when only the external body, a particular part of it, blood, or tissue is examined.
A post mortem may cause distress for families or whānau. Delays will be kept to a minimum and, if possible, any cultural needs and concerns of the family or whānau will be taken into account.
As it is suspected the death was caused by a crime, the immediate family do not have the right to object to the post mortem. However, you do have the right to request that it’s done, as much as is possible in a culturally appropriate way. If you want to request this, you must do so as soon as possible, within 24 hours. Tell the duty coroner’s office immediately by phoning 0800 266 800 and tell the police officer in charge of the investigation or your Police Family Liaison officer. The coroner will decide if they can grant your cultural request or not. If they cannot, they will explain why.
For more information bout the process of a post mortem, see pages 6-8 of the Ministry of Justice booklet When Someone Dies Suddenly, or you can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.
The immediate family can, if they wish, request to see a copy of the post mortem report done by the pathologist for the coroner. It can be disturbing to read and hard to understand, so it can be helpful to talk it through with your doctor.
Police will inform a local coroner that someone has died unexpectedly, and that it may be by homicide. The coroner is like a judge. They are qualified lawyers appointed as judicial officers to lead the coronial process. This process looks at the causes and circumstances of someone's death and if there is anything that can be done to prevent deaths in similar circumstances.
Firstly, the coroner will order a post mortem examination of the person’s body to discover exactly how they died. This always will happen after a suspected homicide death.
The coroner will have a hearing, which can be done in one of two ways. If this hearing is done ‘on the papers’, it means the coroner decides on the cause of death by using all the paper evidence available, including the post mortem report and the police report.
A hearing can also be held in the Coroner's Court, which allows the coroner to speak to witnesses in person. This type of hearing is called an inquest. It is usually open to the public and family, whānau, and friends can attend if they wish.
A dedicated coronial case manager will help you and your family throughout the coronial process. They’ll keep you updated and answer any questions you have.
When the hearing is completed, the coroner will write a formal report, called the Coroner’s Findings, about the facts of the death. The immediate family can ask for a copy. This is a public report that anyone can read.
Up until a person’s body is released to the immediate family or whānau following a post-mortem, a staff member of the duty coroner’s office will keep you and your family or whānau informed about what is happening. After that, a dedicated coronial case manager will help you and your family or whānau through the coronial process. They will keep you updated about what’s happening and answer any questions you may have. They’ll let you know if an inquest will be held and when. They’ll give you their contact details so that you can get in touch at any time during the coronial process. It can be helpful to choose one family member to be the key contact person on behalf of the family.
When the person’s body has been released from the mortuary to the immediate family, you can decide together what you would like to happen next. You may wish for family or whānau to collect the person’s body, or you may choose to call a funeral director to do this.
The immediate family’s chosen funeral director can do as little or as much as they want them to do. Talk with your funeral director about what you would like, including any cultural or religious rituals you want honoured. Ask them about costs, and payment options, so you can make choices that are manageable.
A funeral director helps bereaved families and whānau in several ways, including:
- collecting the person’s body from the mortuary and caring for them at their funeral home until burial or cremation
- providing information about necessary legal requirements after a death
- registering the death and helping families get a copy of the death certificate
- preparing the body for viewing if the family wishes this and it is possible
- fulfilling the family’s choices for the funeral, tangihanga (tangi), or memorial event
- checking if the person’s legal will requested certain funeral arrangements
- organising cremation or burial procedures that meet necessary requirements
- helping families apply for financial assistance, if needed
To find a funeral director
If you and your immediate family prefer to organise a burial or cremation without a funeral director
The Department of Internal Affairs Te Tari Taiwhenua explains the legal and practical requirements you must follow here. There are rules about where and how you can bury or cremate someone, and where you can scatter ashes.
If you live overseas but the death of someone close to you has happened in NZ, the bereaved family or whānau are able to access some assistance here in New Zealand, such as:
- Victim Support - Call us on +64 4 474 8862 to be connected to a Support Worker (24/7) for assistance
- information from the Ministry of Justice's Victims of Crime Information Centre - please email firstname.lastname@example.org
- support through the criminal justice system - look in this directory to find a New Zealand lawyer
- some financial support. ACC may accept a claim for accidental death which would provide financial support to cover some costs. when the death of a New Zealander has been confirmed by police as murder or manslaughter. If you're overseas and need to contact the ACC claims team on +64 7 848 7400. (Call centres are open Monday to Friday, 7am - 7pm NZ time.)
The media can quickly spread public information about the homicide death via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, internet, and social media.
Police will only officially release to the media the name of the person when the formal identification has been made. They will talk with the immediate family about this timing. In the release police may include details like the gender, approximate age of the person and where they were found. They might also state that they have referred the death to the coroner or started a homicide inquiry. Police can help your family or whānau to prepare and release a family statement if you wish.
However, in the meantime, the media or others may choose to name the person or give enough details for them to be recognised. Journalists will often be working to publish stories before reliable information is fully available to them, so you may find information reported in the media that is not correct or complete. This can be distressing.
People from the media may ask you or other family, whānau, and friends to make a comment about what’s happened, or be interviewed about the person who died. The media do not always have your best interests in mind.
Some victims find it helpful and empowering to share their story. For others, dealing with the media is very stressful. Speaking with the media or not is your choice. Our information sheet Managing media interest information sheet offers you some helpful tips to make informed decisions about dealing with the media.
Police can also assist you in dealing with the media.
Other useful information and websites
Victim Support has developed a helpful information handbook for those affected by homicide, in partnership with Skylight. You can see a PDF version of it here or ask your Support Worker for a printed copy.