The majority of deaths in New Zealand do not require an investigation and the death certificate is signed by the local medical doctor. For deaths that are not able to be signed by the local doctor or the death has occurred in circumstances outlined by the Coroner’s Act 2006 referral to the Coroner is required. Coronial death investigation in New Zealand follows the British model with the coroner being legally trained but has evolved to meet New Zealand’s cultural obligations.
New Zealand’s unique mix of ethnicities and its legal and cultural obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi introduces some challenges to the coronial system, in particular how coronial and forensic post-mortems are managed and conducted. These challenges include viewings, objections to post-mortems, and the returning of post-mortem samples and specimens to families. The Coroner’s Act specifically states the coroners must consider minimising the distress and offence to the family in deciding whether or not to authorise a post-mortem.
Post-mortems are conducted by both coronial and forensic pathologists with services delivered by a mixture of both private and public service providers. Forensic science services are provided a separate government entity while the death investigation is conducted by the police as New Zealand does not have specialist medical death investigators.