Reportable deaths are deaths where:
- the person’s identity is unknown
- the death was violent or unnatural
- the death happened in suspicious circumstances
- a ‘cause of death’ certificate hasn’t been issued and isn’t likely to be
- the death was related to health care
- the death occurred in care, custody or as the result of police operations.
A coroner also has jurisdiction to inquire into suspected deaths, also known as missing persons.
Not all deaths are reported to coroners, further information about types of reportable deaths is below.
Reporting a death
Who must report a death?
A person must report a death if they’re aware of a reportable death and don’t think it’s already been reported.
Usually a police officer or medical practitioner will report a death to the coroner and/or coronial registrar.
If the person who died had a disability and lived in supported accommodation and/or was receiving high level support as a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participant in a supported living arrangement, the service provider must report the death even if the person died elsewhere (e.g. hospital) and someone else may have reported it.
Service providers have a higher obligation because they provide services to vulnerable members of society.
Read the When does a COVID-19 death need to be reported to the coroner guide for more information.
Types of reportable deaths
Even if nothing about the death is suspicious, the death of a person with unknown identity must be reported to a coroner unless the identity can be established with enough certainty to register the death.
Fingerprints, photographs, dental examinations or DNA can be used to identify the person.
Violent or unnatural death
A death is violent or unnatural if caused by accident, suicide or homicide rather than a disease’s natural progression. Car accidents, falls, drowning, electrocutions, drug overdoses, and industrial and domestic accidents are all reported to coroners.
These deaths are reportable even if a delay occurs between the incident causing injury and the death, as long as the injury caused or contributed to the death and the person wouldn’t have died without the injury.
Suspicious deaths are generally those where homicide is suspected or cannot be excluded. A suspicious death is also one where the death has occurred unnaturally but it's unclear whether another person has been involved. If police consider there is sufficient evidence to lay criminal charges in connection with the death they may do so. In these cases, the coronial investigation is postponed until those charges are resolved.
Cause of death certificate hasn't been issued and is unlikely to be issued
Where a patient appears to have died from natural causes, medical practitioners must issue a cause of death certificate if they can determine the probable cause of death. If they can’t, they must report the death to the coroner for an autopsy to determine the medical cause of death.
Assistance is available to help medical practitioners to fulfil this obligation, including:
- useful information about the issuing of certificates can be found through HealthPathways and Primary Health Networks
- a forensic physician in the Clinical Forensic Medical Unit at Queensland Health is available during business hours to discuss cases and provide advice
- the coronial registrar in the Coroners Court is available during business hours and can provide advice about whether it is appropriate to issue a death certificate.
If a medical practitioner cannot form an opinion about the cause of death or has concerns about the circumstances of death, they must report the death to the coroner.
For further information, read - Issuing cause of death certificates for apparent natural causes deaths – a guide for Queensland medical practitioners
Health care related death
Health care refers to a health procedure, or any care, treatment, advice, service or goods provided for the benefit of human health. A health procedure includes dental, medical, surgical, diagnostic or other health-related procedure, including anaesthetic or other drug.
Deaths relating to health care include deaths due to a failure to treat or diagnose, and clinical or medication incidents and errors.
A death is health care related if both:
- health care, or failure to provide health care, caused or contributed to the death
- before the health care was provided, an independent person (qualified in health care) wouldn’t have expected the health care to cause or contribute to the death, or for the death to occur at that time.
To determine if a heath care related death is reportable, the coroner/coronial registrar may seek an independent medical opinion. This person can examine the person’s known state of health before the health care - such as:
- underlying disease, condition or injury—and
- the clinically accepted range of risk associated with the health care.
Health care related deaths are reported to a coroner/coronial registrar by using Form1A - Medical practitioner report of death to a coroner .
Refer to the Information for health professionals brochure for further information.
Death in care
A death is considered a ‘death in care’ if the person who died:
- had a disability and either resided in certain types of supported accommodation and/or was receiving high-level support in a supported living arrangement other than in their own home (living a alone or with family) or an aged care facility in one or mor of the following classes of supports as a participant under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
- High-intensity daily personal activities
- assistance with daily life tasks in a group or shared living arrangement
- specialist positive behaviour support that involves the use of restrictive paractice
- specialist disability accoommodation
- was subject to involuntary assessment or treatment under the Mental Health Act 2016 or Forensic Disability Act 2011, and was either:
- being taken to or detained in an authorised mental health service or the forensic disability service
- detained because of a court order
- undertaking limited community treatment
- was a child awaiting adoption under the Adoption Act 2009
- was a child who lived away from their parents as a result of action under the Child Protection Act 1999.
An inquest must be held for a death in care if the case raises issues about the care provided to the deceased person.
Read more about:
- Deaths in care
- Deaths of people with a disability
- Deaths of aged care residents
- Deaths in care (disability) - Factsheet
Death in custody
A death is considered a ‘death in custody’ if the person died while in custody, escaping from custody or trying to avoid being put into custody.
‘Custody’ is defined broadly to capture detention under any state (i.e. correctional facility) or federal legislation (i.e. immigration detention), with some limited exceptions, whether or not by police.
Deaths in custody must be reported to the state coroner or deputy state coroner and an inquest must be held.
Death as a result of police operations
A death occurring in the course of or as a result of police operations may include those that occurred as a result of policing activities, for example:
- the death of an innocent bystander while police are attempting to detain a suspect
- someone who commits suicide while police are present
These deaths must be reported to the state coroner or deputy state coroner and an inquest must be held unless the coroner believes the circumstances don’t require an inquest.