Although the post they hold is judicial, and legal qualifications and experience are often required, coroners are not considered to be members of the courts judiciary.
However, for especially high-profile inquests a judge may be appointed to oversee the proceedings as a deputy coroner.
The office of coroner was formally established in 1194, originally as a form of tax gatherer. In the centuries since, the role has evolved into an independent judicial officer, charged with the investigation of sudden, violent or unnatural death.
The coroners’ system
Unlike the unified courts system, administered by HM Courts and Tribunals Service, there are 92 separate coroners’ jurisdictions in England and Wales. Each jurisdiction is locally funded and resourced by local authorities.
Coroners are barristers, solicitors or medical practitioners of not less than five years standing, who continue in their legal or medical practices when not sitting as coroners.
Some 32 coroners are “whole time” coroners and are paid an annual salary regardless of their caseload. The remainder are paid according to the number of cases referred to them.
The coroner’s jurisdiction is territorial – it is the location of the dead body which dictates which coroner has jurisdiction in any particular case.
Coroners are required to appoint a deputy or assistant deputy to act in their stead if they are out of the district or otherwise unable to act. Deputies and assistant deputies have the same professional qualifications as the coroner.
In exceptionally high-profile or complex cases, a serving judge may be appointed as a deputy coroner.
For example, in 2007 Lord Justice Scott Baker was appointed as Assistant Deputy Coroner for Inner West London for the purposes of hearing the inquests into the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales and Emad El-Din Mohamed Abdel Moneim Fayed (Mr Dodi Al Fayed).
Lady Justice Hallett has been appointed Assistant Deputy Coroner for the Inner West London District of Greater London in order to conduct the inquests into the deaths of the 56 people killed in the London bombings on 7 July 2005.