Last updated 20 January 2022

The timely release of the deceased’s body for burial or cremation is crucial for preventing unnecessary distress to family members. Despite this, the decision to release a body requires balancing of the need to investigate with the family’s wishes and the deceased’s cultural and religious beliefs.

Requesting a release order

The funeral director who is working with the family must submit a request for a release using Form 14A and a Cremations Act 2003 (Qld) (Cremations Act) Form 1 if cremation has been chosen.

Releasing the body

Before releasing the body, the coroner will consider whether releasing the body could impact on their ability to make the findings required under s 45(2) of the Coroners Act 2003 (Qld) (Coroners Act)). During this process, the coroner will consider the matters outlined in sections 8 and 9 of Form 3, including whether:

  • any tissue donation is complete
  • the examination of the body is complete
  • all retained tissue has been returned to the body
  • the body has been formally identified.

The coroner may decide that a tissue sample should be retained for investigative purposes but should order the release of a body if the deceased has been identified and retaining the body is not necessary for the investigation.

Generally, following an approval, the deceased’s body will be released to the family so that they can organise the funeral. In practice, the funeral director will usually collect the body from the mortuary and prepare for burial or cremation. Sometimes family members collect and transport the body themselves to reduce conveyance costs—prior to doing this, you should contact Coronial Family Services and speak to a coronial counsellor for further guidance.

Before releasing the deceased’s body, the coroner will indicate any infection risks to those transporting the body. on Form 14. Similarly, the release of a body for cremation will not be ordered if the body poses a cremation risk (e.g. presence of a pacemaker or radioactive implant) or if there are other objections to the cremation (ss 6(7), 8 Cremations Act). If the deceased has left signed instructions that they are to be cremated, this will override any other objections (s 8(1) Cremations Act). The coroner is not required to further investigate objections to a cremation, so it is important to be proactive if you do not want to see your loved one cremated.

Cultural and religious considerations

Coronial counsellors can make the coroner aware of any cultural or religious issues that may impact on the timing of release of the body. For example, in Indigenous, Islamic, Taoist-Buddhist, Jewish and Hmong cultures it is important that a body is buried soon after the death occurs.

Release of Indigenous burial remains

If the deceased’s body are Indigenous burial remains, the coroner must stop the investigation and order the release of the body to the minister responsible for the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003 (Qld) and the Torres Strait Islander Heritage Act 2003 (Qld) as soon as practicable using Form 12 (ss 12(2), 26(2)(a) Coroners Act).

Resolving disputes

Sometimes, there are disputes among family members about whether the deceased should be buried or cremated. These disputes may arise between a subsequent spouse and children from a previous relationship, or between estranged parents of a deceased child. These disputes may result in the coroner receiving more than one request for release and, in that case, the coroner will explore dispute resolution options between the parties and a referral to Coronial Family Services.

If the dispute cannot be resolved, the coroner will consider each person’s views before making an administrative decision and giving written reasons regarding the release of the body. As part of this process, the coroner may consider whether:

  • there is evidence of a family dispute on the coronial file
  • the release request is made by the marital spouse of the deceased, but it is clear from the file there is a de facto spouse
  • the release request is made by an estranged de facto spouse
  • the release request is made by an adult family member who lives in a different area to the deceased
  • the deceased person is Indigenous, and the applicant lives in a different community to them.

Once the coroner decides who to release the body to, it may be necessary for you to urgently seek an order from the Supreme Court that the body be released in accordance with the coroner’s administrative decision to ensure that it can be enforced in the face of further disputes.