How the coronial process works

The purpose of the process
Any sudden death that is unexpected, violent, or suspicious will be investigated by a coroner. Their job is to confirm the identity of the person who has died and how, where, when, and why they died. The cause of death can then be listed on the person’s official death certificate.

The police inform a coroner if someone has died unexpectedly, violently, or in suspicious circumstances. A doctor will inform a coroner if they’re unsure about what caused a patient’s death.

This coronial process section describes the steps that are carefully and respectfully followed to do this job. It is a complex process that can vary according to the different circumstances of a death. A coronial case manager or your Support Worker can advise you along the way if anything seems confusing.

What a coroner does
The coroner is a qualified lawyer who has been appointed as a judicial officer to lead the coronial process. There are up to 20 coroners around Aotearoa New Zealand. Their work is supported by Coronial Services, which is part of the Ministry of Justice.

The coroner decides if a post mortem examination of the person’s body is needed to discover how they died.

In some cases, a coroner will decide to open a coronial inquiry to establish the cause and circumstances of death and find out what could be done to reduce the chances of future deaths in similar circumstances.

After all the investigations are completed, the coroner will write a formal report about the facts of the death. This is called a report into the Coroner’s findings.

Keeping families updated
Coronial Services will make sure the immediate family of the person who died are kept up-to-date with what’s happening. A dedicated coronial case manager will update you and your family throughout the coronial process and answer any questions you may have. They’ll also let immediate family know if an inquest will be held or when a person’s body is being released to the family. 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 for one family member to be chosen on behalf of the family to be the contact person. 

How we can help
Our Support Workers are available to provide information, support, practical help, and advocacy throughout the coronial process. You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.

Other useful websites and information

When somebody dies suddenly: The first stages

When somebody dies suddenly: A guide to coronial services in Aotearoa New Zealand

First stages of the coronial process (video)

What is a post mortem?

Coroners’ investigations and post mortems by Community Law


Your rights as a victim