In Queensland the Coroners Act 2003 effectively requires a coroner to investigate what are called "reportable deaths". These are deaths which occur in custody or care, as a result of police operations, in violent circumstances or are otherwise suspicious. Members of the community who might be affected by such deaths include health care professionals, police, employers in high risk occupations and of course the family of the deceased.
What does the Coroner do?
The coroner's task is to determine what caused the deceased's death. And if, after hearing all of the evidence, the coroner reasonably suspects that a person involved in the death may have committed an offence, the Director of Public Prosecutions will be informed. That may well result in that person facing a criminal charge. But conduct falling short of an offence may still have serious consequences. For example, it may result in that person's conduct being put before a trade or industry disciplinary body for punitive proceedings to be commenced.
Essentially the same procedure is followed in New South Wales under the Coroners Act 2009, except that coroners in that State have jurisdiction to investigate certain fires and explosions, as well as deaths. There is also a significant difference between the two States in the way hearings are conducted.
In Queensland persons permitted by the court to appear at the inquest may only examine witnesses if the court allows it, whereas in New South Wales, persons permitted to appear are entitled to examine witnesses without asking the court for permission to do so. This distinction is important because it further defines the role of a lawyer at such inquests.
How can a Lawyer help?
The value of an experienced criminal lawyer at a coronial inquest depends on the interests of the person being represented. If, for example, the lawyer is representing a health care professional in an inquest into the death of a hospital patient, the lawyer can be used to examine witnesses in order to assist the court to determine important issues like the level of care which was provided to the patient, and whose responsibility that was.
On the other hand, the family of a young man killed in a workplace accident would want the lawyer to present to the court insightful evidence about the deceased's competency and diligence at work. For very different reasons the parties in both examples require skillful representation.
Contact McMillan Criminal Law today for experienced advice.