Coronial inquests in Queensland are public hearings held to examine the cause and circumstances surrounding a death which occurs in unusual or unnatural circumstances. Inquests are conducted by coroners (i.e. magistrates who perform that role), and the proceedings are heard in the Coroners’ Court.
There are certain deaths for which a coronial inquest must be held. This includes deaths in custody and deaths in care. For other deaths, whether an inquest is held or not is at the coroner’s discretion. This blog explains what a coroner considers when deciding if a coronial inquest should be held.
The Coroners Act 2003 (Qld) (the Act) requires a person who becomes aware of a death ‘that appears to be a reportable death’ to immediately report the death.
A death is a ‘reportable death’ if the death happened in Queensland or was caused by an event in Queensland, or the person resided in or was travelling in Queensland, and if:
Under the Act, it is an offence not to report a reportable death.
Not all deaths are the subject of a coronial inquest or investigation. Coroners examine reports submitted by police in respect of each death and determine which deaths need to be further investigated. Often, where a person’s cause of death is obvious and uncontroversial, no inquest will be held.
Having said this, all reportable deaths must be investigated by a coroner – even if, ultimately, an inquest is not held.
Following a coroner’s investigation into a reportable death, the coroner will need to decide whether to hold an inquest into the death. An inquest may be held if the coroner is satisfied it is in the public interest to do so.
Having regard to this public interest test, under the Act, the coroner may consider two things:
Chapter 9 of the State Coroner’s Guidelines helpfully provides a list of ‘factors for consideration when assessing whether an inquest should be held’.
If a coroner determines that the necessary findings can be made without an inquest, and public interest factors do not indicate that an inquest is called for, it may be that an inquest into a reportable death is not held.
Where that is the decision, families of the deceased will usually be given 14 days’ notice of a coroner’s intention to finalise an investigation without an inquest.
If a coroner decides not to hold an inquest, there is scope under the Act for individuals to formally apply for an inquest to be held. Where such an application is unsuccessful, there is an appeal avenue via an appeal of the coroner’s decision to the District Court.
An example of this is the 2023 decision of Morant v Ryan (The State Coroner)  QCA 109 (Morant). Mr Morant’s wife (the deceased) died by suicide, after which Mr Morant was charged with counselling and aiding her suicide. He was found guilty of the offences.
Later, Mr Morant applied to the Coroner’s Court for an inquest into the death of the deceased. The application was made on the basis that Mr Morant believed the deceased was not alone when she died and that she must have been aided at the scene by someone else.
Following the coroner’s investigation into the death, findings were issued. In essence, the coroner found that the deceased had died from carbon monoxide poisoning, and her death was caused by suicide. The coroner indicated that he would not hold an inquest.
Due to the coroner’s decision not to hold an inquest, Mr Morant applied to the State Coroner for a review of the coroner’s decision. The State Coroner determined it was not in the public interest for an inquest to be held because findings had already been made, and an inquest would not achieve anything more.
Mr Morant then ‘appealed’ the State Coroner’s decision to the District Court. He was unsuccessful and so appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.
In doing so, Mr Morant relied on five grounds:
All grounds failed, and so the appeal was dismissed.
Notwithstanding the outcome of Morant, Gilshenan & Luton has, in the past, successfully applied for inquests to be held – usually in the very early stages of the coronial process. Our success demonstrates that whilst the application process can be difficult, particularly when the applicant is self-represented, it is not impossible to achieve the desired outcome.
Gilshenan & Luton Legal Practice has extensive experience in the coronial inquest jurisdiction. We regularly represent families and witnesses and have successfully applied for inquests to be held.
The coronial process can be daunting and challenging, so we recommend that you contact us to help guide you through the process.
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This article is of a general nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. If you require further information, advice or assistance for your specific circumstances, please contact Gilshenan & Luton, Criminal & Employment Lawyers Brisbane and Sunshine Coast, Queensland.