Duties of a coroner
Peter Jones works as a coroner, examining the circumstances of violent, unnatural or sudden deaths where the cause is unknown. He is based in Southwark and his district covers four inner London boroughs – Greenwich, Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark.
What is the role and duties of a coroner?
A coroner presides over a Coroner's Court. These are usually based on a county structure. My purpose is to examine the circumstances of deaths with unknown causes. After considering the facts, I can authorise the disposal of bodies. In some instances, we hold a formal inquest. In Scotland, the process is different and is under the control of the procurator fiscal.
What was your route into this job?
I have been a full-time coroner since February 2005. Previously, I was a solicitor and the managing partner in a private practice undertaking a range of non-contentious work – mainly buying and selling property and acting for patients with mental health issues. I have also been a deputy coroner.
What does the work involve?
Deaths are usually reported to me by the police or a doctor, and I work closely with pathologists who carry out postmortems (medical examinations of the deceased) on my behalf. A typical week might involve dealing with between fifty and seventy deaths, and I might open ten or fifteen inquests. During a week, I also approve thirty or forty postmortems.
How often do you attend court?
I am at court every day and 'on call' most nights and weekends, although I am not often called out. I have to make sure that one of my three deputies is available if I'm not around for any reason. About two thirds of my time is taken up with advising my twelve officers, correspondence and signing paperwork. The rest of my time is spent hearing inquests in court.
Do you make the decisions on your own?
Usually I do, but sometimes a jury is required for complex cases. However, a Coroner's Court is not a civil or a criminal court. I make my decisions based on the law and they can be reviewed by the High Court if I have made the wrong decision.
How did your work as a solicitor differ?
The biggest difference is that I now do very little work on the telephone and when I am in court, I am totally focused on what is happening there. I deal with people who are very upset and I have to remember that whilst this is my job, it is a particularly distressing time for them. Do you have any other duties?
In addition to death, I also deal with finds that are potential treasure, such as ancient artefacts with precious metal content. The job of a coroner is a public role, and I am often asked to speak at meetings about what I do and what the service provides. However, it is not a good talking point at parties!
What special skills do you need?
The law requires coroners to be solicitors, barristers or medical practitioners with at least five years' experience. Most are lawyers with at least twenty years of experience who have sound knowledge of the law, especially the law of evidence and court procedures. Good communication skills are essential. It's also important to have computer skills, as a lot of work is carried out on the computer.
Peter's route to his career as a coroner
- Degree in Law (LLB)
- Qualified solicitor
- Deputy coroner
- Coroner for inner London district
Peter's coroner tips
- If you are interested in this area of law be prepared to persevere.
- Look out for changes taking place in the system.
Coroner related jobs
- Crime scene investigator/Scenes of crime officer (SOCO)
- Forensic scientist
- Judge/Sheriff Police officer
- Procurator fiscal (Scotland)
Salary of a coroner
- The salary of a coroner is based on the size of their jurisdiction or district.
- Full-time coroners can earn up to £81,135. Part-time coroners are paid on a pro-rata basis with a salary ranging from £8,343 to £42,000.
How to become a coroner
- Coroners must have extensive professional training and are usually lawyers with at least five years' experience.
- Coroners usually begin as a deputy or assistant deputy to the coroner for a particular area.
- They do not need any further training but do attend training courses provided by the Home Office and the Coroners' Society.
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