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.
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.
If the person who died had a disability and lived in Level 3 accredited residential service or a government-funded or provided residential service, 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.
Sometimes a health practitioner may report a death directly to a coroner using Form 1A - Medical practitioner report of death to a coroner where they seek either:
- advice from the coroner about whether a death is reportable
- the coroner’s authority to issue a death certificate because the cause of death is known and no autopsy or investigation appears necessary.
Submit the form to the coroner responsible for the region where the hospital is located.
As a health practitioner, if you’re unsure whether a death is reportable or how to report a death, phone the coroner to discuss the death.
Read the Information for health professionals (PDF, 179KB) booklet 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 reported to coroners for investigation. If police consider there is sufficient evidence to prefer 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 is unlikely to be issued
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.
Death relating to health care
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.
The independent 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.
Death in care
A death is considered a ‘death in care’ if the person who died:
- had a disability under the Disability Services Act 2006 and lived in either a Level 3 accredited residential service (i.e. a hostel), or government-funded or provided residential service
- was subject to involuntary assessment or treatment under the Mental Health Act 2000 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.
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 or federal legislation (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 the death of an innocent bystander while police are attempting to detain a suspect.
These deaths can be reported only 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.