About post-mortems, why they’re carried out and what happens afterwards.

A post-mortem, also known as an autopsy, is a detailed examination of the body after death.

The coroner might decide a post-mortem is needed if the:

  • cause of death is not known
  • cause of death is possibly violent or unnatural
  • person died in prison, police custody or another type of state detention
  • Most post-mortems are carried out by a doctor with specialist training, called a Consultant Histopathologist.

If the death is suspected to be the result of a criminal offence, the post-mortem will be carried out by a Home Office registered Forensic Pathologist, on behalf of the Coroner and the Police.

We understand you might not want a post-mortem carried out. However, they are sometimes necessary and the Coroner does have the authority to order a post-mortem, even if the family doesn’t agree. This is so we can uphold the law and apply it fairly to everyone. We’ll do all we can to support you and minimise the delay to your funeral arrangements. The Coroner’s Office can tell you when and where the post-mortem will take place.

After the post-mortem

Once the post-mortem has been carried out, the report will be sent to the Coroner. One of the Coroner’s officers will phone the family with the results. The Coroner will usually be able to tell at this point if any further enquiries or investigations are needed.

Unnatural or unknown cause of death

If the post-mortem shows an unnatural cause of death, or if the cause of death is still unknown, the Coroner will open an inquest.

Natural cause of death

If the post-mortem shows a natural cause of death and no further examinations are needed, the Coroner will send a form to the register office stating the cause of death. You can then register the death  (GOV.UK) and make the final funeral arrangements. You’ll need to tell us which funeral director you’re using and if the deceased will be buried or cremated. You can take a few days to provide this information.

Further investigation

If the post-mortem is not conclusive, the Coroner might continue the investigation without opening an inquest. For example, the pathologist may be waiting for results of blood tests or microscope work, which might take a few weeks to come back.

In these cases, the body can be released and the funeral can take place. A death certificate can’t be issued at this point and the death can’t be registered. However, the Coroner can issue a burial order or cremation certificate and an interim certificate of the fact of death, to prove the person has died.

If the test results confirm a natural cause of death, the Coroner will stop the investigation and send a form to the register office stating the cause of death. You can then register the death (GOV.UK). If the cause of death is found to be unnatural or still unknown, the Coroner will open an inquest.

Post-mortem report

If you have an interest in the case, you can request a copy of the post-mortem by writing to the coroner’s office:

Bear in mind that post-mortem reports contain detailed and explicit medical information and can be unpleasant to read. You might find it helpful to go through the report with your GP.