The coronial process

If the information you're looking for isn't on this page, or if you have any other questions, please contact Coronial Services by emailing or phoning 0800 88 88 20.

The role of the coroner

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

Coroners look at and decide the facts about certain things to do with a person’s death, including:

  • that a person has died
  • who the person was
  • when and where the person died
  • how the person died
  • the circumstances around the death.

A coroner may:

  • start an inquiry to investigate a death, and to find out the cause and circumstances of that death; and
  • make recommendations and comments that may help to prevent similar deaths in the future.

 A coroner cannot start an inquiry to decide on civil, criminal, or disciplinary liability. This is because the powers that a coroner has are defined under New Zealand law, in the Coroners Act 2006.

For more information, see:

Coroners Act 2006(external link)

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Coronial inquiries and coronial inquests

A coronial inquiry is a process to find out the facts of a death. A coronial inquiry does not decide who is guilty for causing a death.

If a coroner believes they need more evidence to find out the facts of a death, they can hold a hearing in court. This is called a coronial inquest. At a coronial inquest, a coroner will hear from witnesses and consider evidence.

A coroner might not hold a formal coronial inquest if they believe they have all the evidence they need. In this case, they will still hold a hearing, but it won't be held in court and witnesses won't give evidence.

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Coroner Windley will be undertaking an inquiry into the 2019 Christchurch masjid attacks

The Chief Coroner paused the masjid attacks coronial investigation until the criminal proceedings were complete and the Royal Commission of Inquiry had released its final report.

The Chief Coroner resumed the investigation in December 2020 and formally opened an inquiry in October 2021. In deciding to open an inquiry, the Chief Coroner considered questions and concerns raised by families of the Shaheed and other interested parties, and what was resolved by the prosecution process and the Royal Commission of Inquiry report.

While it has been confirmed that 51 people died in the masjid attacks, there are still issues for the coronial inquiry to consider. Inquiries allow more detailed investigation into the causes and circumstances of the deaths, and help coroners make recommendations or comments that might prevent a similar death happening in the future.

With the Chief Coroner’s upcoming retirement, Coroner Windley has now taken over the inquiry. You can find out more about Coroner Windley on the people supporting the coronial process page.

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