When an unnatural death or unexplained fire occurs, it is the practice for a coroner to hold a coroner’s inquest. The coroner will also hold an inquest when informed by a police officer that a person has died within 24 hours after being given an anaesthetic during an operation, or has died in a mental hospital or prison. The purpose of the inquest is to determine the manner and cause of the death and to decide whether a prima facie case exists against a person for an indictable offence arising out of the incident.
Coroners sit in the Coroner’s Court (part of the Magistrate’s Court) but they are not bound by the normal rules of procedure and evidence. If the coroner decides that a prima facie case exists against any person for an indictable offence, they may commit the person for trial in the Supreme Court. The Director of Public Prosecutions may then decide whether or not an indictment will be laid.
In Tasmania this is rarely done. If there is good cause to believe that the death was caused by a crime, it is usual practice to charge the person, and to hold committal proceedings before the inquest is concluded.