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Coroners and Justice Act 2009

Section 14: Post-mortem examinations

134.This section sets out the arrangements for ordering post-mortem examinations, and makes slightly different provision from that contained in sections 19 and 20 of the 1988 Act.

135.Subsection (1) gives a senior coroner power to ask a suitable practitioner to make a post-mortem examination of a body if the senior coroner is either responsible for conducting an investigation into the death or a post-mortem examination will enable the senior coroner to decide if he or she has a duty under section 1 to conduct an investigation. This may be relevant where it is not clear whether a death occurred as a result of a notifiable disease or whether a child was stillborn – where, for example, an infant’s body is found and it is not clear whether it ever had independent life. Where it is known or established that a child was stillborn, the senior coroner will have no further power to carry out an investigation.

136.The term “post-mortem examination” is not defined but it will include any examination made of the deceased including non-invasive examinations, for example, using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans.

137.The 1988 Act makes a distinction between post-mortem and “special” examinations (the latter are a more specific kind of post-mortem examination and would include toxicology tests to establish whether, for example, alcohol or drugs were in the bloodstream). The Act removes this distinction, enabling the senior coroner to detail the kind of examination he or she would like the practitioner to make – for example, to ask for a particular examination of a tissue or organ which seems most relevant to the cause of death if a full post-mortem is not considered necessary (subsection (2)).

138.Subsection (3) defines a suitable practitioner as either a registered medical practitioner or, where a particular form of examination is required, a practitioner who is of a type or description the Chief Coroner has designated as suitably qualified and competent to carry out such examinations.

139.Subsection (4) ensures that any medical practitioner about whom there are allegations in relation to the death is not able to carry out the examination of the body, although such a person may be represented at an examination.

140.Subsection (5) requires the person making the examination to report the result to the senior coroner as soon as is practicable.

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