About the coroner
The Senior Coroner for East Sussex is Alan Craze, an independent judicial officer presiding over a Court of Record within the English Judicial system.
East Sussex also has four Assistant Coroners, namely Karen Henderson, James Healy-Pratt, Fiona King and William Dolman.
Although appointed and paid by local councils, the Coroner is not a local government officer but holds office under the Crown and operates completely independently of East Sussex County Council, Sussex Police and all other institutions.
The Coroner is responsible for the investigation of all violent or unnatural deaths, sudden deaths of unknown cause and deaths in custody which are reported to him.
A death may be reported for a number of reasons. It does not mean that there is anything suspicious about the death, it may be that the doctor is unsure of the exact cause or that the person has died earlier than expected, suffered from an industrial disease, died during a surgical operation, or before recovery from an anaesthetic.
The Guide to coroner services and coroner investigations (gov.uk) tells you what standards of performance are to be expected in the East Sussex Coroner service, and what to do if something goes wrong.
The Coroner discharges his duties in accordance with the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, the Coroners Rules 2013, and other relevant legislation.
What happens when somebody dies
We understand how difficult it can be when someone close to us dies. The feelings of shock, sadness, loss and bewilderment can be very strong. It is also a time when there are many things to be done, just when we may feel least able to do them.
The Coroner’s Office will do all they can to assist you during this time.
The Bereavement Advice Centre supports and advises people on what they need to do after a death.
What do I do if someone dies suddenly?
In the first instance, contact your GP or the local police.
The police, acting for the Coroner, will, if necessary, arrange for a local funeral director to attend to move the deceased. In most cases the deceased’s own doctor or a hospital doctor will be able to give a medical cause of death. If the death occurs at night or at a weekend there may be a delay in contacting the deceased’s GP.
Why are the police involved?
In some circumstances, the police act as Coroner’s Officers. It is not always possible for an officer to be in plain clothes, so although the officer may be in uniform, in this instance he or she will not be acting as a police officer. A full-time Coroner’s Officer may also attend.
A visit by the police should not make anybody think there is anything suspicious about the death.
The purpose of the visit is to obtain the information that the Coroner needs to conduct his enquiries and to provide the correct personal information to the Registrar.
You will be given a telephone number for the Coroner’s office and a Coroner’s Officer will be assigned and will be able to answer any questions you may have.
The duties of a Coroner’s Officer are:
- to act as the representative of the Coroner in the investigation of any death
- to gather all the circumstances surrounding the death of an individual
- to attend and record scenes of death including out of hours on a callout basis
- to liaise with the family regarding the procedures involved in the conduct of the Coroner’s inquiry
- to contact the Coroner on your behalf if you so wish and to guide you through the time leading up to an Inquest if one is necessary
- to liaise with the witnesses regarding their involvement in the Inquest
What if the deceased dies unexpectedly in hospital?
If the death occurs in hospital, the Coroner can arrange for the post-mortem examination to be carried out by a pathologist other than one employed at or connected with that hospital, if a relative asks the Coroner to do so and if it does not cause an undue delay.
What happens if the deceased wished to be an organ donor?
Where a death is referred to the Coroner and the person concerned has consented to organ donation, organ or tissue donation can still take place but the agreement of the Coroner is needed.
In such circumstances contact will be made with the Coroner and, having obtained the necessary information from medical staff, the Coroner will decide whether to agree to donation.
The Coroner is very anxious to support organ donation and to comply with the wishes of the person who has died but must also be satisfied that any donation will not interfere with the Coroner’s duty to investigate the cause of death. There are some circumstances where the Coroner will not be in a position to give permission.
Why are organs sometimes removed from the body of the deceased and what happens to these?
Sometimes the pathologist needs to carry out a more detailed investigation of particular organs in order to establish the cause of death. If this is done then the pathologist must tell the Coroner for how long the organs should be retained. The Coroner will notify the family of this and ask them to confirm what they wish to happen to the organs at the end of that period.
Usually, the pathologist only needs to take a very small sample of an organ, rather than removing the organ itself. This sample then forms part of the deceased’s medical records.
More information is available from the Human Tissue Authority.
When can I get a death certificate or interim death certificate?
When the Coroner is given a cause of death by the doctor, the doctor and the Coroner will notify the Registrar of the death. This will happen normally within 24 hours.
You may then contact the Registrar to make an appointment to visit the Registrar and register the death. You must do this in person.
If the Coroner has decided to hold an inquest or is awaiting further results from tissue analysis or other, then a full death certificate will not be available until after the inquest or investigation is concluded.
However to enable the family to deal with banks, insurance companies, pension providers, National Savings, or any other person who needs official confirmation of the death, the Coroner will, on request, issue an Interim Certificate as to the Fact Of Death, more commonly known as an Interim Death Certificate.
The interim certificate is not a death certificate. This is obtained from the Register Office at a later date.
Why have a post-mortem?
A post-mortem is an examination of the body of a person who has died. It is sometimes referred to as an autopsy.
If the deceased’s own GP or the hospital doctor cannot give a medical cause of death then an examination must take place to determine the cause.
Can I object to a post-mortem?
Although the Coroner will be mindful of any views held by members of the family it is for the Coroner alone to decide whether a post-mortem must take place. The Coroner has a legal duty to ascertain the cause of death, and if a doctor cannot satisfy the Coroner of this then a post-mortem examination must take place.
Who organises and pays for the transport of the deceased to and from the post-mortem?
The Coroner’s office will organise the removal of the deceased to and from the hospital and will pay for this service.
You are not obliged to retain the services of the funeral director appointed by the Coroner to transport the body of the deceased to and from the hospital and you may appoint a funeral director of your choice to organise the funeral.
Do I have to accept the result of a post-mortem?
No. You can ask the Coroner for a second post-mortem but this will be at your cost and you will need to make all the arrangements yourself.
Will a post-mortem delay the funeral?
Not usually. The Coroner and pathologist understand the desire on the part of the family to deal with matters expeditiously, particularly in cases where the religious or cultural beliefs of the family require a funeral to be held within a particular time period.
However there are some cases where a slight delay occurs. In such cases an explanation will be given to the family together with an estimate of how long the delay will be.
Can I have a copy of the post-mortem report?
The Coroner will usually supply a copy of the report to ‘interested persons’, immediate family, legal representatives and so on, on application in writing.
The Coroner’s Officer will usually explain the main points of the report to the family as soon as it is available. Your GP will be able to answer questions in more detail.
An inquest is a judicial process and a Coroner’s Court is a court of law.
The purpose of an inquest is to establish who the deceased person was, and when, where and how they died. However, unlike other court processes, the Coroner’s inquest is an inquiry and not a trial.
There are no ‘parties’ and the Coroner does not make ‘judgments’ about possible issues of blame or liability. An inquest is generally a fact-finding and not a fault-finding process.
In certain circumstances however, where a state organisation may have had responsibility for the person who has died, then the scope of the inquest will be wider and the hearing more comprehensive considering not only how the person died but also the circumstances in which the death occurred.
When will the inquest be held?
The vast majority of inquests are held within six months of the death.
Where will the inquest take place?
Usually the Coroner hears cases from the east side of the county on a Tuesday in:
Muriel Matters House (google maps)
and cases from the west of the county on a Thursday in:
The Town Hall
Do I have to go to the inquest?
You will normally need to attend if the Coroner calls you as a witness.
Inquests are public hearings and anyone may attend.
What happens in an inquest?
The Coroner will introduce the inquest explaining who everyone is and what will be happening.
The Coroner will call and question the relevant witnesses who have to give evidence either by swearing an oath or making a declaration.
Family members and other properly ‘interested persons’ can ask questions of the witnesses after the Coroner has done so.
The Coroner will read any relevant statements.
The Coroner will summarise the evidence and then pronounce the conclusion (or where there is a jury, give them directions as to the range of conclusions which they can consider).
Will I have some support?
Yes. The Coroner’s Officer will be present to assist.
Find additional: local support services.
Why do some inquests have a jury?
A jury will only be required in certain circumstances, in particular when the death occurs in prison or police custody or results from an accident at work.
The procedure of a jury inquest is somewhat different, however the function and purpose remains the same.
What does it mean if I am called to serve on a Coroner’s jury?
The Coroner will explain at the start of the inquest everything that is expected of the jury in dealing with the case.
You will be able to claim allowances at prescribed rates for travelling, subsistence and for financial loss (such as loss of earnings) if you are called to serve on a jury.
What does being called as a witness to an inquest entail?
The Coroner makes the decision as to who should be called as witnesses to the inquest.
You will be told of the witnesses who are to attend. If you want to suggest the Coroner should call any additional person then you can ask the Coroner to consider calling such a person but the final decision will rest with the Coroner.
The Coroner can issue a formal notice requiring a witness to attend and to produce any relevant document to the inquest. If the person fails to attend then the Coroner may consider issuing a warrant enforcing their attendance.
The Coroner may decide to read written evidence at the inquest if it is not possible for the witness to give evidence at the inquest within a reasonable time, if there is a good reason why they should not attend or it is believed they will not attend the inquest or the evidence is unlikely to be disputed.
The Coroner will seek the views of the bereaved family and any interested persons before making a decision in this respect.
What happens when someone has been charged with causing the death?
In these circumstances the Coroner will adjourn the inquest until after the criminal court proceedings have been concluded. It may then be unnecessary to reopen the inquest.
Do I have to accept the verdict of the inquest?
It is sometimes possible to challenge the verdict of the inquest by way of an application to the High Court for a judicial review.
You should take legal advice about such a course of action as soon as possible after the Coroner has made a decision.
What happens if an inquest reveals a situation in which further deaths may be prevented and lessons could be learned?
At the conclusion of an inquest the Coroner may decide, in certain limited circumstances, that action may need to be taken to prevent or reduce the possibility of further fatalities and send a report to any authority with power to take such action.
Anybody who receives such a report must provide a response and copies of the report and response will be sent to the immediate family members and other properly ‘interested persons’.
Will the press be present?
Inquests have to be held in public and the media are entitled to attend.
Coronavirus service update
We will continue to hear inquests as we have over recent weeks with virtual and socially distanced proceedings.
You should not come to either of our courts if you have coronavirus symptoms but please telephone us as soon as possible to let us know.
Hastings Coroner’s Court
Eastbourne Coroner’s Court
All queries regarding treasure should be referred to the Finds Liaison Officer for Sussex, Edwin Wood, on 01273 405 731.
Hammonds Drive Patrol Centre,
Telephone: 01273 404 646
- Email: Reggie Jones
- Email: Robert Greenall
- Email: Anne Knight
- Email: Sarah Cockram
- Email: David Tye
- Email: Karen Brown
- Email: Maria Fabien
Coroner’s Office (East Sussex)
St Leonards on Sea
Telephone: 01424 723 030
HM Senior Coroner
- Email: Alan Craze
- Email: Pauline Heath
- Email: Jeanette Bruce
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