Following two reviews of coronial services in the 1970's and the proclamation of the Coroners Act 1985 (No.10257), the State Coroner's Office was established in 1986.
Establishment of a State Coronial System
One of the primary purposes of the Coroners Act 1985 was to establish a new coronial system within Victoria. Prior to the passing of the Act, regional magistrates had sat as coroners when required but there had been no central co-ordination or regulation of the performance of this function. The Act also specified the powers and duties of coroners. Previously these had been in part defined by statute and in part derived from common law practice. With the passing of the Act, common law rules affecting coroners no longer apply and coroners' responsibilities are confined to those specified in the Act.
Under the provisions of the Act, the State Coroner is responsible for the efficient administration and operation of the state's coronial system. Stipendiary magistrates are appointed as coroners by the Governor-in-Council and barristers and solicitors may be so appointed. Subject to the direction of the State Coroner, coroners are responsible for the investigation of all reportable deaths as defined by the Act and may initiate an investigation into certain fires.
Coronial investigations may include the conduct of a formal public hearing or inquest and the holding of an inquest is mandatory for certain categories of reportable deaths including cases where homicide is suspected, where the deceased was held in care immediately prior to his/her death, where the identity of the deceased is not known and at the direction of the Attorney General or State Coroner. Many investigations are now conducted without the holding of an inquest.
The State Coroner is notified of all reportable deaths including those to be investigated by provincial coroners. The State Coroner may investigate any individual case at his/her own discretion or following referral by a provincial coroner. The Act removed the power of a Coroner to commit persons for trial but if a coroner believes that an indictable offence has been committed a report must be made to the Director of Public Prosecutions. A coroner may also make recommendations to the Attorney General on any matter arising from the investigation of a death including public health or safety or the administration of justice.
Responsibilities of State Coroner
Under the provisions of the Coroners Act 1985, the State Coroner is required to:
ensure the efficient administration and operation of the State coronial system
oversee and co-ordinate coronial services throughout the State
ensure that all deaths in Victoria reportable to a coroner under section 3 of the Act are investigated
ensure that an inquest is held whenever one is desirable or essential as required under section 17
issue guidelines to coroners to help them carry out their duties
perform any other duties conferred or imposed on the State Coroner by the Act.
The Act also provided for the establishment of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Pathology which is required to provide and administer mortuary, pathology and related scientific services subject to the direction of the State Coroner. With the establishment of the Coronial Services Centre in South Melbourne in 1988, the integration of all functions has now been achieved within a facility which is staffed by a full time specialist team of coroners, coroners clerks, police attached to the Office, pathologists, social workers and other staff.
Location of Records
The Public Record Office has significant holdings of coronial records. See list below and List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985, section 2.4.0. (Coroners Court) and section 3.18.2. (Registrar General).