A coroner is an official who presides over the handling of dead bodies. In different nations, the meaning of the office is different, and the person has different areas of responsibility and authority. In most cases, the coroner handles administrative tasks that relate to the deceased, such as collecting bodies, identifying them, determining cause of death, granting exhumation requests, testifying in court, and releasing bodies to their families. In most cases, he or she acts as a medical examiner, performing an autopsy on the body to determine how and when the person died. In other nations, this person is actually an officer of the court who manages the inquest, or court investigation, into the death.
In the case of a coroner who acts as a medical examiner, which is the most common example, all deaths must be reported to this person, who will investigate the death if it is suspicious. In general, any death that takes place outside of a hospital is considered suspicious. A coroner or a representative of the office picks up decedents from the site where they are discovered and brings them back to the office for examination. The coroner determines the time and cause of death, and issues a formal death certificate and autopsy report. If the death is found to be a murder, the information gathered by the office will serve as evidence in the case.
When a coroner serves as a court officer, he or she presides over a court hearing that determines the cause of death and what action should be taken, if any. At the hearing, evidence will be presented by a medical examiner, along with witnesses and other relevant speakers. The inquest attempts to determine who the deceased was, how he or she died, and whether or not foul play was involved. If the inquest determines that the death was a murder, other law enforcement officials take over, launching an investigation to track down the murderer. In England, due to an archaic law, this person also handles reports of treasure, determining who the reward for the treasure goes to, as all found treasure belongs, by right, to the Crown.
Training to become a coroner has different requirements, depending on where he or she serves. If the person is acting as a court officer, qualification as a lawyer may be required. One who works as a medical examiner must attend medical school. Other supplemental training may be required, and the training may be different for coroner's assistants, who are trained to collect and process evidence.