Last updated 20 January 2022
Where a death is investigated through an inquest, the coroner must publish their findings and any comments on the State Coroner’s website (s 46A(1) Coroners Act 2003 (Qld) (Coroners Act)). Where a death investigation does not proceed to inquest, the coroner may publish findings where it is in the public interest to do so and family members of the deceased have been consulted (s 46A(2) Coroners Act).
The coroner may make orders prohibiting the publication of information relating to a pre-inquest conference or inquest proceedings. This could include indications that the cause of death may have been a suicide or any information that may incriminate a witness (s 41(1) Coroners Act). There are significant penalties for contravening a non-publication order by the coroner (s 41(2) Coroners Act). The Coroners Act also prohibits the publication of a question disallowed by the Coroners Court during a pre-inquest conference or inquest proceedings and any answer given in response (s 41(3) Coroners Act).
The coroner may also prohibit a person from filming, photographing, sketching or recording anything in or near the location where the inquest or pre-inquest conference is held. This prohibition extends to publication, with significant penalties for contravention where a person does not have a reasonable excuse (ss 41(4)-(5) Coroners Act).
The coroner may also make an order prohibiting part or whole of the publication of the record of proceedings under the Coroners Act (s 41(6)).
Next of Kin in the coronial process
The next of kin is usually a family member of the person who has died.
A family member includes a spouse, de facto partner, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild or sibling of the person who died. If the person who died was an Aboriginal person or Torres Strait Islander, family members will also include appropriate persons as determined by the tradition or custom of the community they belonged to (sch 2 Coroners Act)
When someone dies unexpectedly, police usually visit the immediate family to inform them about their family member’s death. During the visit police will ask who the family’s nominated next of kin is and provide this information to the staff at the Coroners Court of Queensland.
The family’s nominated next of kin is the main point of contact between the Coroners Court and the family. A family member who is not the nominated next of kin may also be able to obtain information from the Coroners Court with the permission of the coroner or coronial registrar investigating the death.
If you are a family member and you disagree with who has been nominated as the next of kin, or the person who is the nominated next of kin is not sharing information with you, you should contact the staff at the Coroners Court so that your concerns can be raised with the coroner or coronial registrar.
Access to information
Accessing information relating to the coronial process may inform you about the death of a loved one. It is also important that certain organisations have the right to access information so that they can conduct other investigations or legal, financial or systemic reviews. However, as the information coming to light in a coronial investigation is often confidential, personal or distressing, there are also checks and balances to ensure that information is being released to the right people in the right circumstances.
Types of material that may be accessible
A request for access to coronial documents and investigation documents can be made, including when the coroner is still investigating the death (s 54(4) Coroners Act).
Coronial documents are defined as documents prepared specifically for a coronial investigation or inquest, and include (sch 2 Coroners Act):
- autopsy reports
- toxicology certificates
- a pathologist’s preliminary advice to the coroner
- police photographs of the death scene
- police reports to the coroner
- witness statements
- independent reports commissioned by the coroner
- the final report outlining the cause of the death and the coroner’s findings.
Investigation documents are documents that were created for a purpose other than the coronial investigation, but were obtained by the coroner to inform their investigation. Examples of investigation documents include suicide notes, texts, emails, telephone recordings, medical records, departmental records and policy documents, CCTV footage and confidential documents obtained by the coroner under other legislation.
Access to information will be declined if it is (s 52 Coroners Act):
- subject to legal professional privilege (e.g. Counsel Assisting’s legal advice to the coroner)
- likely to prejudice a fair trial, the investigation of an alleged offence or the maintenance of law enforcement or public security measures
- likely to lead to the identification of a confidential source of information for law enforcement purposes
- likely to endanger a person’s life or safety
- likely to facilitate a person’s escape from custody
- about a person’s personal affairs (e.g. their sexuality or criminal history)
- obtained by the coroner under other legislation (instead you will need to apply for access using the process outlined in that legislation) (s 54(4) Coroners Act).
If a document has been prepared by a government department, you may be able to access the document directly from the department via a ‘Right to Information’ request.
A transcript of the inquest can be obtained directly from Auscript via their website or phone 1800 287 274.
Access to material for people with a sufficient interest
The coroner involved in the investigation can permit a person to access coronial and investigation documents (s 54(1)-(3) Coroners Act) or a physical exhibit (s 62A Coroners Act) if:
- that person has a sufficient interest in accessing the document
- the access is in the public interest
- the coroner has, to the extent practicable, consulted with and had regard to, the view of the family of the deceased.
In determining whether a person has a sufficient interest, the coroner may consider:
- the applicant’s connection with the deceased person
- the nature of the applicant’s involvement in the events leading to the death
- why the applicant wants to access the document—mere curiosity, newsworthiness, a trivial interest or a general public interest is not enough.
The following categories of applicant will generally be regarded as having sufficient interest (s 54 Coroners Act):
- the immediate family members of the deceased (s 54(3)(a) Coroners Act)
- any person or entity whose actions may have contributed to the death, particularly when it is possible the coroner may make an adverse finding about that person
- a person who was materially involved in the events leading to the death
- any person given or eligible for leave to appear at an inquest
- the deceased’s personal representative
- a person’s legal representative in criminal or civil proceedings relating to the death
- an investigative entity whose statutory function enables or requires it to inquire into the death (e.g. WorkSafe Queensland, Australian Transport Safety Bureau, health regulatory authority, Crime and Corruption Commission, and Office of Aged Care and Quality Compliance)
- an insurer, superannuation fund or workers compensation entity considering a claim in respect of the death or the incident in which the death occurred
- a health practitioner or service advising a family member about possible genetic predisposition to the condition that caused the death
- a public official or regulatory entity with public health or safety responsibilities (e.g. the Chief Health Officer, Therapeutic Goods Administration, Australian Health Safety and Quality Commission, Office of Fair Trading, Civil Aviation Safety Authority).
Access to material in the public interest
The coroner can also permit access to material if the coroner considers the access to be in the public interest and, to the extent practicable, has consulted with and had regard to the views of a family member of the deceased person (s 54(3)(b) Coroners Act). Information is generally considered to be in the public interest if it will inform death prevention policy initiatives, raise public awareness, correct public misinformation or inform industry regulators.
The coroner can also refuse access to material in the public interest (s 56 Coroners Act). For example, it may be appropriate to withhold information that could trigger copycat suicidal behaviour.
Applying for access to material
If you meet the criteria of having sufficient interest or you have a public interest, you can apply for access by completing an Application for Access to Coronial Documents.
You will be required to include:
- proof of your identity documents (e.g. full birth certificate, Australian passport (current or expired within the last two years), Australian Citizenship Certificate, international passport (current or expired within the last two years), current photo driver licence, current Department of Veterans Affairs Card, current Centrelink or Social Security Card or 18 plus card)
- proof of relationship documents (if applicable) (e.g. birth certificate with both parents’ details or evidence of Child Support payments)
- change of name documents (if the name on your request is different to the name on your identification and proof of relationship documents) (e.g. a marriage certificate issued by a registry or celebrant, Registration of change of name issued by a Births, Deaths and Marriages registry, divorce papers or a deed poll).
You are not required to have any of these documents certified.
If the coronial investigation is still in progress, you will need to send your application to the investigating coroner. You can contact the Coroners Court if you are unsure who the investigating coroner is.
If the coronial investigation has been finalised, you will need to send your application via:
- email to email@example.com
- post to Coroners Court of Queensland, GPO Box 1649, Brisbane Qld 4001.
If your matter is current, or less than nine years old, it can take up to five weeks to process your application.
Fees for access to material
When accessing coronial investigation material, you may be required to pay a fee. If you need to pay any fees, the Coroners Court will tell you how much you owe and how to pay (generally by cheque or money order) before releasing the material.
Conditions on access to material
The coroner will usually place conditions on your access to the material. It is common that the coroner will only allow you to use the information for coronial purposes, and will not allow you to disseminate the information for any other purposes. If you breach these conditions, you may be imprisoned for up to two years (s 55(2) Coroners Act).