If you have lost a loved one as the result of a disaster, their death will most likely be reported to the NSW Coroner. This then triggers an investigation by NSW Police.
A coroner is a Local Court magistrate who investigates deaths to determine who died, when and where the death took place, and the manner and cause of death. Violent or unnatural deaths, sudden deaths with an unknown cause, and deaths under suspicious or unusual circumstances must all be reported to the Coroner.
The Coroner does not hold an inquest for all deaths. In most cases, the police investigation will gather enough information for the Coroner to establish what happened. However, family views are important, and the Coroner should ask your views before deciding whether or not to hold an inquest.
An inquest is a formal court hearing. The Coroner can examine systemic issues that contributed to what happened, and can make recommendations to government departments and agencies to prevent similar incidents in the future.
If you have lost a family member as a result of a disaster, such as bushfire or flood, you can get free legal advice from the Legal Aid NSW Coronial Inquest Unit. Solicitors from the Unit assist families to communicate with the Coroners Court, obtain information, and make representations. They can also appear as your lawyer at an inquest in certain circumstances.
Families play an important role in the NSW coronial system. They are entitled to a voice, and to answers over the death of a loved one.
The coronial process can be a confusing and daunting one. Even a short conversation with Legal Aid NSW about what to expect can help alleviate concerns and provide guidance as to what to expect. You can contact the Coronial Inquest Unit on (02) 9219 5156.
Legal Aid NSW can also provide onward referrals for counselling and additional supports.