New Zealand Law Society - The Australasian Coroner's Manual

The Australasian Coroner's Manual

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Reviewed by Judge Neil MacLean

This compact (218 pages) publication is a welcome addition to the relatively sparse literature of relevance to the New Zealand coronial system.

The content and themes within it sit comfortably with the recent first-ever NZLS CLE Seminar, “Proceeding before the Coroners Court”, which Fletcher Pilditch and I presented in August this year, particularly in teasing out the direct and indirect ramifications of an inquisitorial jurisdiction operating in a mainly adversarial environment.

While most of the reference to authorities is Australian, the authors also comment on New Zealand legislation and practice. That partly reflects the fact that – unlike Australia – there has been relatively little higher court authority in New Zealand and none (yet) in the vexed area of contested post mortems.

While ostensibly aimed at coroners, in reality the book is a very readable guide for anyone, particularly lawyers, interested in coronial work. As the attendances at the NZLS CLE seminar showed there is substantial interest amongst a growing number of legal practitioners in this area and this book is a good introduction.

Anyone wanting more detailed information should be aware of the seminal text Death Investigation and the Coroner’s Inquest by Freckleton and Ranson, but that’s over 900 pages of detail and not for everyone.

The coverage of issues is wide including traps for the unwary, indigenous issues, autopsies, organ retention, inquest practice and procedure and tips on effective advocacy – to name but a few.

The style makes for easy reading with a good index, compact paragraphs and sub-headings.

Some quite complex ethical and philosophical issues are covered in a very pragmatic way and set in appropriate context. This neatly balances a range of immensely practical and sage advice not only for coroners, who are often having to cope with difficult issues such as suicide, infant mortality, the proper scope of an inquiry, and the need for balanced and sensible recommendations, but also for practitioners having to give advice – often in a pressured and challenging environment.

There are invaluable guides to other resources and reading (including New Zealand), not just in narrow specialist areas but also wider ethical and/or philosophical fields.

The authors are held in high regard by New Zealand coroners and the feeling is clearly mutual.

As the growing influence of the Asia Pacific Coroners Society and the development of joint continuing education between Australian and New Zealand coroners demonstrates, coronial law and practice and the issues arising have many commonalities and the Australasian focus of this book further confirms that.

I would commend this balanced, sensible, well-written and readable text to anyone with an interest in this area be they lawyer, medical practitioner, Police, pathologist or any other of the many people and agencies who are involved in the aftermath of sudden and unexpected death.

The Australasian Coroners Manual, Federation Press, June 2015, 978-1-862879-89-8, 247 pages, hardback, A$99.

Judge MacLean retired in February 2015 after eight years as New Zealand’s Chief Coroner. He currently holds an Acting District Court Judge warrant working solely on ACC appeals.

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