Chief Coroner & coroners

Coroners are like judges. They are qualified lawyers appointed as judicial officers to look into unexpected, violent or suspicious deaths to find out what happened.

Coroners make comments or recommendations if something can be done to prevent similar deaths happening again. Coroners don’t hold trials. They don’t blame people or punish them.

In addition to the Chief Coroner, there are currently 17 coroners in 9 centres across New Zealand.

Judge Deborah Marshall, Chief Coroner

Judge Deborah Marshall, Chief Coroner

Judge Deborah Marshall is the Chief Coroner and was appointed to that position in February 2015. She took over from Judge Neil MacLean, who was appointed as the first Chief Coroner in February 2007.

Judge Marshall attended Auckland University, gaining a BA and LLB(Hons).

After gaining her law degree, Judge Marshall joined Meredith Connell, the Office of the Crown Solicitor in Auckland. She became a senior crown prosecutor and a partner in that firm in 2003.

During her time at Meredith Connell, Judge Marshall was involved in criminal prosecutions and was also on the medico-legal team, acting as counsel in inquests and providing advice to many health-related organisations.

After leaving Meredith Connell in 2011, Judge Marshall worked part time as general counsel for the Serious Fraud Office and was a legal advisor to Professional Conduct Committees set up by the Medical Council of New Zealand. In January 2013 she was appointed as a coroner in Auckland.

Appointment of coroners

To be appointed as a coroner, a person must have held a practising certificate as a barrister and solicitor for at least 5 years.

Coroners are appointed under section 103 of the Coroners Act 2006. Other relevant provisions are in sections 104 to 114. The Governor-General makes the appointments on the advice of the Attorney General after consultation with the Minister of Justice.

There is a statutory cap of the equivalent of 20 full-time coroners.

As vacancies come up, we will usually advertise a request for expressions of interest in relevant newspapers and legal publications.

We usually ask applicants to name at least 3 nominated referees who can vouch for the applicant’s character and the accuracy of the information they’ve supplied.

Applicants need to make a statutory declaration confirming they have no criminal convictions, disciplinary actions or unresolved complaints, and that they’re financially secure with no bankruptcy or related issues, and no other matter which might affect their credibility in office.

The key criteria at a practical level includes:

  • an ability to self manage a busy workload under sustained pressure
  • a demonstrated ability to write timely quality findings based on evidence
  • a sound cultural awareness of the dynamics of modern New Zealand society.

There is no specific age criteria, but in general, people in good health in their 40s or 50s tend to be the main group from whom coroners are selected.

Ask for a coroner to be withdrawn from a case

Applications can be made to withdraw (recuse) a coroner or the Chief Coroner from a particular inquiry. An application in writing should be sent to the Office of the Chief Coroner setting out fully the grounds for the application.

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