Unexpected Death

If you discover a body or the death is sudden or unexpected, you should contact the following people:

  • The family doctors.
  • The deceased’s next of kin or the local mosque.

If necessary, the police will help find the people listed above. If the cause of death is quite clear, the doctor will be able to certify the cause of death and he or she will give you the following:

  • A Formal Notice that states that a doctor has signed the Medical Certificate and tells you how the death can be registered and
  • A Medical Certificate that shows the cause of death (this is free of charge and will be given in a sealed envelope addressed to the Registrar of Deaths).

If the doctor treating the deceased had not seen him or her either after the death or within 14 days before the death, the death must be reported to the coroner.

Unexpected death – reporting to the coroner

The coroner is a doctor or lawyer responsible for investigating deaths. In any of the following circumstances the doctor may report the death to the coroner:

  • If the cause of death is unknown or uncertain.
  • The death was sudden and unexplained, e.g. a sudden infant death (cot death).
  • The death occurred in prison or in police custody The death was caused by an accident or injury
  • The death was caused by an industrial disease.
  • The death occurred while the patient was undergoing an operation or did not recover from the anaesthetic.

Also as noted above, if the doctor treating the deceased had not seen him or her either after the death or within 14 days before the death, the death must also be reported to the coroner. The coroner is likely to be the only person to certify the cause of death under the above circumstances.

Unexpected death – coroner’s post-mortem

The coroner may arrange for a post-mortem examination of the body to determine the cause of death if not known. The consent of relatives is not needed but they are entitled to be represented at the examination. When relatives have told the coroner, they wish to be represented the coroner will, if at all practicable, tell them when and where the examination will be. If the post-mortem shows that death was due to natural causes, the coroner may issue a notification known as the Pink Form (Form 100), which gives the cause of death so that the death can be registered. The coroner usually sends the form direct to the Registrar of Deaths but may give it to you to deliver.

Post mortem examination is carried out to determine the cause of death. A pathologist needs to cut open the body and take samples of tissue from various organs to try investigating the cause of death. If the family of the deceased wish to avoid this they may choose an MRI scan instead. This will mean that the body will not be cut open. But please note that if the MRI scan cannot give a cause of death a post-mortems may still be required. The family of the deceased will also need to pay for the MRI scan.  

Unexpected death – inquest

An inquest is an enquiry into the medical cause and circumstances of a death. It is held in public, sometimes with a jury. It is up to the coroner how to organise the enquiry in a way which best serves the public interest and the interests of the relatives. The coroner will hold an inquest if the death was:

Violent or unnatural or
Caused by an industrial disease or the death occurred in a prison or
If the cause of death remains uncertain after post-mortem examination.

The coroner may give you an Order for Burial (form 101) so that the funeral can take place. This may be done before the inquest is completed, provided the body is not required for further examination. The coroner will also send a Certificate after Inquest (form 99), stating the cause of death, to the Registrar of Deaths. This allows the death to be registered.