The Medico-Legal Centre is purpose-built to provide facilities and services required for the investigation of sudden or unexpected death.
It comprises the offices and courts of HM Coroner for South Yorkshire (West) District and the public mortuary. Sheffield City Council provides the reception, mortuary services and Coroner’s support.
The Centre has a strong commitment to providing a high standard of service to the bereaved and is nationally and internationally recognised as a model of good practice in this field of work.
Everyone working at the Medico-Legal Centre is committed to dealing with the technical and legal side of the investigation of sudden death in a professional, dignified, and sympathetic manner.
HM Coroner for South Yorkshire West District is Christopher P Dorries OBE. He is based at the Public Mortuary and his offices can be called during office hours (8am to 5pm).
Role of the Coroner
The Coroner is an independent Judicial Officer, responsible only to the Crown, with a statutory duty to investigate sudden, violent or unexplained deaths. The Coroner must be legally qualified.
About 40% of all deaths are reported to a Coroner, often because the cause of death is not immediately known. Approximately half of the reported deaths require some form of post-mortem examination and in the vast majority of cases this will reveal a natural cause of death. However around 18% (600+ cases per year locally) show an unnatural cause of death and therefore require an inquest.
The Coroner does not work for the City Council or any other organisation but the law requires the Council to provide the facilities to carry out his work.
The majority of Inquests are held before a Coroner sitting alone. This will either be the Senior Coroner or one of his Assistant Coroners. Assistant Coroners are also legally qualified and often ‘sit’ for the Senior Coroner on a few days each month. However, an Inquest must be heard before a jury (between 7 and 11 people) if the death occurred in detention (for example in prison or police custody), in a works accident or in other limited circumstances.
By law, the inquest is restricted to establishing the deceased's identity, when and where he/she died and, most importantly, how the death occurred. The verdict cannot be framed in such a way as to indicate either criminal liability on the part of a named person or civil liability.
You can read the list of ongoing and planned Coroner inquests.
The Coroner's decision is set out in a formal document called the ‘Record of Inquest’. This states the identity of the deceased, the medical cause of death, the time and place of death and in what circumstances the deceased came by their death. The form also records the court’s conclusion as to the death.
The conclusion as to the death (previously known as a verdict) categorises whether the death was suicidal, accidental, or caused by natural causes etc. It is also common to use a narrative conclusion which is a factual statement of the Coroner’s finding as to how the death occurred.
Suicide or unlawful killing conclusions must be proven beyond reasonable doubt, whereas other conclusions are returned on ‘the balance of probabilities’. The open conclusion, rarely used these days, means that the evidence does not sufficiently disclose the full circumstances in which a death occurred.
A conclusion which often achieves wider publicity is that a death has been contributed to by neglect. In the Coroner's Court neglect has a very specific and narrow definition, it should not be confused with civil negligence. In the Coroner’s court it means that there was a gross failure to provide someone in a dependent position with adequate food, shelter or basic medical attention and that this led to their death.
Digital Autopsy is a non-invasive technique that involves the use of a CT scanner creating a 3D whole body digital image which is considered by the Coroner’s pathologist alongside all other available evidence. The pathologist will then advise the Coroner as to whether he/she considers that the medical cause of death has been ascertained sufficiently without the need for a full invasive autopsy.